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Home » What is a Black Eye? Is it a Serious Injury?

What is a Black Eye? Is it a Serious Injury?

eyefocusMany people have experienced the pain of a scary-looking shiner. Although puffy black eyes look frightening and attract a lot of attention, many of them heal and clear up on their own within a few days. Sometimes though, a black eye can indicate more serious damage to your eye. To keep you informed about how to get rid of a black eye and when you should seek urgent eye care, Dr. Jeanine Graves, your Fair Lawn, NJ, eye doctor explains.

Why does my eye look black?

The official name for a black eye is a “periorbital hematoma”, which literally means “accumulation of blood in the tissues around the eye.” Simply put – the dark discoloration of a black eye is due to blood and other fluids that collect in the area around your eye, due to a blunt force trauma that breaks blood vessels under your skin. The skin around your eye is very loose, so it becomes one of the first places to fill up with fluid after an injury. Because this skin is also very thin, the pooled blood is also very noticeable.

As you probably figured out, despite the name of this condition – your eye is usually not the location of the injury, it is the surrounding tissue. However, sometimes the sclera (white of your eye) will also turn bright red due to bleeding under the surface membrane of your eye. Although a red eye is definitely freaky to see, it is generally not serious and will heal without treatment within a few weeks.

I didn’t walk into a wall or get hit. Why do I have a black eye?

Typically, black eyes occur when something smacks into your face or head. However, there are other causes. Other possible culprits are nasal surgery and cosmetic eye surgery. Some types of dental work, severe sinus infections, and tooth infections may also lead to swelling around your eye.

More serious health problems that can cause black eyes include:

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

eye2 CopyHow do I know if my black eye is serious and requires treatment?

The symptoms of a classic shiner are different from those of a black eye caused by more serious problem.

Typical black eye symptoms:

  • Inflammation around the eye, which may start out mild and then increase even to the point that opening the eye is difficult
  • Bruising and discoloration around the eye; the skin may start out red and then change to dark purple, yellow, green or black
  • Pain around the eye
  • Blurry vision

Signs that your black eye may be from a serious head injury:

If you experience any of the following symptoms, our eye doctor recommends seeking emergency eye care treatment to help prevent lasting damage to your eye and vision:

  • Blood on the surface of the eyeball
  • Vision Loss
  • Double vision
  • Severe or constant headache
  • Blood or fluid coming out from your nose or ears
  • Inability to move the eye
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting

What is treatment for a black eye?

Typically, a black eye that doesn’t involve more serious symptoms can be self-treated at home. Your freezer is the first place to seek treatment.

Day One and Two: On the first day after your injury, you can relieve swelling and pain by applying an ice pack gently to your eye for about 15-20 minutes, once every hour. No ice pack handy? Use a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a cloth (placing them directly on your face can freeze your skin). Cold constricts blood vessels, which limits the inflammation. A mild pain-reliever, such as Tylenol, may help; do not take aspirin, which is a blood thinner and can make your black eye look worse.

Despite all the familiar movie scenes that feature a slab of raw meat placed on a black eye, this is actually a dangerous thing to do! Raw meat carries many bacteria that raise your risk of infection when placed against a wound.

Day Three: switch from cold to warm compresses in order to increase blood flow to the area, which promotes healing

Are there any additional ways to speed healing of a black eye?

Vitamin C supplements, which strengthen blood vessels, may help speed healing. Some studies also encourage eating pineapple, as it contains enzymes that decrease swelling. Another tip is to ingest bilberry extract. This relative of the cranberry and blueberry contains powerful antioxidants that may diminish bruising in the body.

In addition to these nutritional approaches to reinforce your body’s healing process, you need to work on the fortitude of your patience! Most of the time, the appearance of a black eye will look significantly better in a week and go away in a couple weeks. As it heals, you’ll notice the color changing to a rainbow of hues before your normal skin tone returns.

Our Fair Lawn eye doctor also cautions to protect your eye carefully from further injury during the healing period. This is one of the most effective treatments to facilitate healing. In other words, use your common sense and avoid sports or activities that involve flying objects or crashing into other players. Wearing protective sports eyewear or safety glasses is also a smart move.

If your swelling or pain do not subside after a few days, or if you notice any changes in your vision, contact your eye doctor to schedule an emergency eye exam.

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