Black Eye Recovery: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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closeup image of senior man with a bruised and injured eye (black eye) looking at camera

A black eye, sometimes called a shiner, is medically known as a periorbital contusion. The bruising seen with a black eye is usually caused by an injury to the face, but not necessarily the eye itself. Swelling usually also occurs but doesn’t last as long as the bruising, which can take a week or more to heal. There are black eye home remedies you can try for treatment, but there are times you may need emergency care. Know the signs of a serious injury so you can take action right away.

Black Eye Injury

When an injury, such as a punch, fall or other blunt force trauma, impacts the eye area, the nearby blood vessels break, causing blood to pool under the thin, delicate skin. This bruising and discoloration can occur on the eyelid and around the eye socket. The bruise may seem much darker under the thin skin surrounding the eye than it would on another part of the body.

Most black eyes are the result of an accident, rather than physical violence, and most are not serious and don’t cause permanent damage to the eye. However, sometimes swelling can be severe at first, causing the eyelids to be swollen shut.

Black Eye Recovery Time

How long it takes for a black eye to heal can be anywhere from a week to three weeks. Most of the time, the condition heals within two weeks. During black eye recovery, you’ll likely see a rainbow of colors within the bruised skin: black-and-blue bruising at first and then changing to green and yellow as you near the end of healing.

Black Eye Treatment

Home remedies for treating a black eye are focused on reducing the pain, swelling and bruising. Right after the injury occurs, apply a cold compress for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You can wrap a bag of ice or frozen peas in a cloth, or even use a cold, damp washcloth. Don’t put ice directly on your skin, as this can damage the skin. And don’t use raw meat as a compress, which can introduce bacteria and increase the risk of infection. Apply very gentle pressure to the skin, and avoid pressing the eye itself. Do this several times a day for a couple of days. When the swelling has gone down, you can use a warm compress for another day or two.

You can take painkillers if the black eye area hurts, but don’t take aspirin, which is a blood thinner and can make bruising worse. (Never give aspirin to children for any reason, as it can cause a severe reaction called Reye’s syndrome.)

Black Eye Emergency Care

Some black eye injuries are more serious than others, and there are some signs to look for to know whether you need emergency treatment. These black eye symptoms should be examined by a doctor right away:

  • Blood inside the eye
  • Bruising around both eyes
  • Bleeding from the nose or ears
  • Forward bulging of the eyeball (proptosis)
  • Fluid or pus coming from the eye
  • Problems with eye movement
  • Cut on the eye or eyelid

A black eye may be a very visible injury, but it is typically not a dangerous one. By knowing what to expect from black eye recovery and the symptoms could signal something more serious, you can find the right treatment and make a full recovery from your black eye.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 1
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