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Black eye: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

What is a black eye?

A black eye is bruising to the skin tissue around the eye, usually after a blow to the face or an accident.

The skin around the eye goes a blue or purple colour after the bursting of blood vessels under the skin.

Skin may also be swollen and vision affected.

A black eye isn’t usually serious and will clear up after around 2 weeks.

Home care for a black eye can be done by wrapping an ice pack or bag of frozen veg in a cloth and placing over the eye to help relieve pain and swelling. The NHS advises against the old fashioned approach of putting a cold steak over a black eye as it could get bacteria into the wound or the eye,

What causes it?

Most black eyes are the result of blunt trauma that causes bleeding beneath the thin eyelid skin, producing the characteristic blue-black discoloration. A fracture deep inside the skull can also cause black eyes to both eyes, even though the eye area itself was not injured. People with sinusitis from allergies sometimes get "allergic shiners", darkening under the eyes caused by inflamed and engorged blood vessels.

 

What are the symptoms of a black eye?

The symptoms of a black eye include bruising and swelling of the eyelid and soft tissue around the injured eye, sometimes accompanied by broken blood vessels along the white of the eye called subconjunctival haemorrhage. The discoloration starts out deep purple or blue. As the bruise resolves, it may turn green or yellow before disappearing.

Seek medical advice for a black eye if:

  • There was loss of consciousness as a result of the injury.
  • Black eyes spontaneously appear affecting both eyes; you should be examined by a doctor for possible skull fracture.

Any of the symptoms below may indicate damage to the eyeball, which should be evaluated and treated by a doctor or an ophthalmologist:

  • Your eyeball hurts.
  • You have an open cut around the eye.
  • You have blurred vision, or see multiple images or floating spots.
  • You see blood or other abnormalities involving the coloured iris or round pupil.
  • You experience unusual sensitivity to light or other vision changes.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 31, 2013

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