A black eye is bruising to tissue under the skin surrounding your eye.
It is usually caused by a blow to the face, such as a punch, or being hit in the face by a fast moving object, such as a tennis ball.
Sometimes, a black eye can occur after cosmetic surgery to the face, such as a facelift or a nose operation.
The area around the eye turns bluish or purple because tiny blood vessels (capillaries) under the skin burst and blood leaks out into surrounding soft tissue.
Your eye may be painful and swollen and your vision may be temporarily blurred. You may also have a headache and find it difficult to open your eye.
Recovering from a black eye
A black eye is not usually a serious injury.
After a few days, swelling around your eye will start to go down and the bruise will begin to fade.
Like any other bruise, a black eye will usually take about 14 days to heal completely.
When to visit your doctor
You should visit your doctor if you have a black eye and:
- you have changes to your vision
- the pain in your eye is severe and persistent
- your eye is warm, red or leaking pus (these may be signs of infection)
- you become forgetful or drowsy
- you experience nausea, vomiting and/or dizziness
- the swelling does not subside after a few days
It's unusual for a black eye to develop unexpectedly, when there hasn't been an injury, but a possible explanation is high blood pressure causing a capillary to burst, or one of the conditions listed below.
When to go to accident and emergency
Go to your local emergency medical centre if:
- you have two black eyes (this suggests a type of head injury known as a basilar skull fracture)
- you lost consciousness at the time of the blow to your head
- you have a severe or persistent headache
- you have loss of vision
- you have double vision
- you cannot move your eye
- you think something has pierced your eye
- your eye is cut or there is blood on the surface of your eye
- fluid is leaking from your eye or your eye looks deformed
- there is blood or clear fluid leaking from your nose or ears
- you are taking blood-thinning medication, such as aspirin, or you have a bleeding disorder, such as haemophilia
Apply an ice pack to your black eye as soon as possible after the injury. You can use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel.
The cold will numb the pain and relieve the swelling by causing tiny blood vessels in the tissue surrounding your eye to narrow. During the first day, you should apply the ice pack to your eye for 20 minutes an hour every hour.
Do not apply steak or raw meat to your eye. There is no evidence to suggest this is an effective treatment and you may introduce harmful bacteria into your eye or any wound.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can be used to help relieve pain. However, avoid using aspirin (unless your doctor advises you to take it) because it thins the blood and can cause increased bleeding.