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Is My Black Eye a Serious Injury?

Man eye | Huntington Beach, CAYour eye is puffy and bruised in a range of colors from red to black. Sounds like a classic shiner! While this eye injury looks scary and generally turns many heads, in reality – most black eyes heal and clear up nicely within a few days. Typically, no medical intervention is necessary. However, sometimes a black eye can point to a more serious problem. How can you tell the difference? And what should you do? Our Huntington Beach, CA, eye doctor explains the basics about a black eye and when you need to seek emergency eye care.

What is a black eye?

Officially, a black eye is called a “periorbital hematoma.” This fancy term translates into “an accumulation of blood in the ocular tissues.” In even simpler words, the unsightly discoloration of a black eye is caused by blood and other fluids that fill the area around your eye in response to a blunt force trauma. When you get hit in the eye or face, delicate blood vessels around your eye are broken. Since the skin in this area is relatively loose, it fills up easily with fluid. And because it is also very thin, you can see this fluid easily.

The black part of your injury is therefore really the area around your eye, and not your eyeball itself. Sometimes though, the white of your eye will turn bright red from bleeding under the membrane that covers your eye surface. The sight of a red eyeball is always frightening, but in this case, it will also usually heal within a few weeks without treatment.

Can you get a black eye without having an eye injury?

Although the most common cause of a black eye is being smacked in the face by a forceful object (or fist), there are other ways to suffer a shiner. Some culprits include cosmetic eye surgery and nasal surgery. Certain dental procedures, tooth infections, and severe sinus infections may also lead to puffiness around your eye.

Our Huntington Beach, CA, optometrist stresses the importance of knowing that the symptoms of a black eye can also result from some serious health problems, such as:

  • Hyphema, which is bleeding between the back of the cornea and the front of the iris inside your eye; this is a medical emergency that can lead to vision loss
  • Cellulitis (infection) in the tissues around the eyes
  • Skull fracture

How can I tell if my black eye is more serious?

Pay close attention to your symptoms. The signs of a black eye caused by a more serious medical problem are not exactly the same as what you’d experience from a typical black eye.

Regular black eye symptoms:

  • Bruises and discoloration surrounding the eye; your skin may appear as a range of colors, from red to dark purple, green, yellow or black
  • Swelling around the eye, which can begin mild and then worsen even to the point that opening your eye is hard
  • Pain around the eye
  • Blurry vision

Signs of a black eye associated with serious head injury:

If you have any of the following symptoms, our Huntington Beach, CA, eye doctor recommends seeking emergency eye care. Urgent medical attention can help prevent lasting damage to your vision.

  • Severe or constant headache
  • Inability to move the eye
  • Blood on your eyeball surface
  • Fluid or blood leaking from your nose or ears
  • Double vision
  • Vision Loss
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

How is a black eye treated?

Usually, a regular black eye can be treated at home. Your first action should be to open the freezer.

Day 1 and 2: Relieve inflammation and pain by gently applying an ice pack to your eye; hold it there for about 15 minutes, once an hour. Cold works to constrict blood vessels and limit the swelling. If you can’t find an ice pack in the freezer, a bag of frozen veggies will also do the trick. Or wrap some ice cubes in a cloth (don’t place them directly on your wound, as it can freeze your skin).

You can also take a mild pain-reliever, such as Tylenol. Aspirin is not recommended, because it is a blood-thinner and can make your black eye appear worse.

While frozen peas and carrots are fine to use for a chilled treatment, a slab of raw meat is not! Raw meat hosts many dangerous bacteria than raise your risk of infection when held against an injury.

Day 3: put the cold compresses away and switch to warm compresses instead. Now you need warmth to attract more blood flow to the area, which facilitates healing.

Is there any way to speed healing of my black eye?

One of the most important ways in which you can help your eye to heal is by keeping it safe. Protect your eye carefully from additional injury by not engaging in any activities with whizzing objects or crashing players. When you do partake in a physical activity, wear protective eyewear or safety goggles.

Some research supports nutritional approaches to healing:

  • Take vitamin C supplements to strengthen blood vessels
  • Eat pineapple, which has enzymes to decrease swelling
  • Eat bilberry extract (relative of the blueberry and cranberry), which has antioxidants to diminish bruising

The natural healing process usually takes a few weeks to run a full course. Within a few days to a week, your black eye will probably look much better. A few weeks later, your normal skin tone will generally return. Throughout this time, the color of your black eye will change a number of times. If the inflammation or pain does not diminish within a few days after your injury, or if you detect any eyesight changes, it is critical to contact our eye doctor to schedule an emergency eye exam in our Huntington Beach, CA, eye care clinic.