Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011
A black eye is bruising to the tissue under the skin surrounding the eye.
It is usually caused by a blow to the face, for example from a tennis ball or after being punched. Sometimes it appears after cosmetic surgery to the face.
The patch around the eye turns bluish or purple because tiny blood vessels under the skin, called capillaries, burst and blood from the capillaries leaks out into the soft tissue under the skin.
There also tends to be swelling and pain around the eye. Sometimes, vision is temporarily blurred and you may find it difficult to open the eye.
Like any other bruise, it usually heals within 14 days. The dark skin fades through shades of yellow or green and the swelling usually goes down after a few days.
A black eye is not usually serious and you can care for it yourself at home.
See your GP if you are worried about your symptoms and feel that your bruise is not healing, or that you may have a more serious injury (see below).
Caring for your black eye
You can care for your black eye by applying an ice pack (try a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a cloth) as soon as possible after the injury. This will cause the tiny blood vessels to narrow, relieve the swelling and numb the pain, which speeds up your recovery.
Hold the ice to your eye for 20 minutes an hour every hour for the first day.
Do not apply steak or raw meat to the eye - there is no evidence that this will help, and you may introduce bacteria into the eye or into any wound.
Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any pain. Avoid aspirin (unless your doctor advises you to take this), as it thins the blood and can lead to increased bleeding.
When to seek medical help
See your GP if:
- you have a change in vision
- the pain is persistent
- there is pus or warmth and redness, indicating infection
- you become forgetful or drowsy
- you have nausea, vomiting and/or dizziness
- the swelling does not subside after a few days
Go to your hospital accident and emergency department if:
- you have two black eyes (this suggests a skull fracture)
- you have double vision
- you cannot move the eye
- you think something has pierced the eye
- there is a cut to the eye or blood inside the eye
- fluid is leaking from the eye or the eye looks deformed
- you are taking blood-thinning medication such as aspirin, or have a bleeding disorder such as haemophilia