Black Eye: Understanding the Basics

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on March 21, 2024
7 min read

A black eye is a bruise to the eyelid skin usually caused by an injury to the face. It may also involve broken blood vessels in the white of the eye itself, called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The discoloration and swelling happen because blood and other fluids collect in the eye area. Like many bruises, a "shiner" is usually nothing to worry about and will disappear in 1-2 weeks.

"Raccoon eyes" is when you have bruising around both eyes. This most often happens due to a nose injury or after you have have surgery to your face, such as a cosmetic procedure. 


In some cases, black eyes are a warning sign of more serious eye injury or even a skull fracture. A doctor or specialist should quickly evaluate any damage to the eyeball that causes it to become red and swollen. Blunt-force eye injuries, which can result from fighting, competitive sports, and accidents, could involve a detached retina, internal bleeding, or other serious problems. 

A broken bone that involves one of the five delicate bones around the eye, called an orbital fracture, may trap an eye muscle or soft tissues. It could also damage the optic nerve and permanently damage your eyesight. You may need emergency surgery to correct this condition.

The signs of a black eye include bruising and swelling of the eyelid and soft tissue around the eye. It might be hard to open your eye all the way, and your vision could be temporarily blurry. The discoloration around your eye starts out deep purple or blue. Then it may turn green or yellow before disappearing, usually in a week or two. 

If you also have a subconjunctival hemorrhage, all or part of the white of your eye will turn bright red. Usually, this isn't painful and clears up in about 2 weeks.

Most black eyes are the result of blunt trauma that causes bleeding beneath the thin eyelid skin, producing the characteristic black and blue discoloration. A fracture deep inside the skull can also result in raccoon eyes, even if the eye area itself isn't injured.

People with sinusitis from allergies sometimes get "allergic shiners," dark circles under the eyes caused by inflamed and swollen blood vessels. But this isn't the same thing as a black eye.

Certain health conditions can also result in a black eye or raccoon eyes. They include:

  • Amyloidosis, a rare condition that leads to the buildup of a protein called amyloids in your organs
  • Autoimmune conditions such as lupus
  • Certain cancers, such as Kaposi sarcoma and multiple myeloma 
  • Concussion
  • Hemophilia
  • Some infections, such as a sinus infection
  • A blood clot in your sinuses
  • Some liver conditions

Facial surgery as well as dental surgery, such as wisdom tooth removal or dental implants, can also cause discoloration around one or both eyes. Blood and other fluids from the surgery spread under the tissues of your face and into the eye area, causing discoloration and swelling. 

When to seek emergency care for a black eye

Get medical care right away if you have a black eye and:

  • You've had a head injury.
  • You fainted or lost consciousness after an accident or injury.
  • You have double vision or vision loss.
  • You can't move your eyeball in all directions.
  • There's blood on the surface of your eye or you're bleeding from your nose or ears.
  • You have raccoon eyes that didn't result from surgery.
  • You have a bad headache or one that won't go away.
  • One pupil is a different size or shape than the other.
  • You're vomiting.

When to see an eye doctor for a black eye

See an eye specialist (an ophthalmologist) promptly if:

  • You have unusual sensitivity to light or other vision changes that don't go away quickly.
  • The pain and swelling don't stop after a few days.
  • You have pus, redness, or warmth near the injured area.

If you have a single black eye without other symptoms after a blow to your face, you can probably diagnose it yourself. 

Most of the time, doctors diagnose a black eye with a simple physical exam. They'll check your vision and see how well your eyes can move. They'll examine your eyes and shine a light in them to see if your pupils dilate as they should. 

They may also check your facial and orbital bones. If they think you may have a fracture or a foreign object in your eye, they can do an imaging test like an X-ray or computed axial tomography (CAT) scan.  

You might also have a fluorescein stain test. It uses a special dye that allows the doctor to see damage on your eye's surface when they shine a blue light on it. 




Most people with black eyes can treat them with self-care at home. An ice pack can reduce pain and selling. On the same day you get your black eye, apply it to your eye area once an hour for 15-20 minutes at a time.

In a pinch, you can use a bag of frozen peas or other vegetables in place of an ice pack. But it's a myth that putting raw meat on a black eye will help heal it. It doesn't work, and bacteria from the meat could give you an eye infection.

After a couple of days, switch to warm compresses. You can use a warm washcloth or a heat pack on low heat. Apply to the area several times during the day, and keep doing this until the swelling improves.

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen not only help ease pain but can also reduce inflammation. Avoid aspirin, as it could make the bruising worse.

Keeping your head elevated as much as possible may help the swelling go down. If it feels OK, you can gently massage the area around your eye with your fingers. But avoid the eye itself.

If your black eye is a symptom of a fracture or other serious injury, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for treatment.

Home treatments like using cold and warm packs and keeping your head raised can help your black eye to heal. But unfortunately, there's no proven way to speed up the process. There's some evidence that vitamin C or the herb arnica -- either taken as supplements or applied to the skin -- might reduce bruising. But we need more research on this.

If you really need your black eye gone and money is no object,  you could see a dermatologists for a laser treatment. If you get it soon after your injury, it can keep the bruising from spreading and help it heal faster. 

 Most of the time, black eyes heal well on their own and don't cause any lasting damage.

How long does it take for a black eye to heal?

A black eye could lastanywhere from 1 to 3 weeks, depending on how bad your injury was and how quickly your body tends to heal. While you're healing, avoid contact sports and other activities that could lead to further injury. If it's not gone by week 3, see an eye doctor. 

Some ways to reduce your risk of an injury that could cause a black eye include:

  • Always wear your seat belt while riding in a car.
  • If you're at risk of work-related injuries, wear goggles, a face shield, or other protective gear.
  • If you or your child play a sport that can lead to eye injury, such as baseball or basketball, ask an optician or eye doctor about protective eyewear. Face masks and special glasses or goggles can help. You can also use softer safety balls, especially for younger players. 
  • Avoid boxing, a common cause of black eyes. 


A black eye is a bruise to the skin around your eyelid, most often caused by a blow to the face. They're usually not serious and go away in a week or two with home care. But if you also have other symptoms, like vision problems, bleeding, or bruising around both eyes, it's important to get medical help. 

Why did I randomly wake up with a black eye?

A black eye doesn't always appear right away after trauma to the face. In the first black eye stages, your eye might just look a little red, with swelling and discoloration showing up later on. If you had a blow to the face the day before, that's probably the explanation. Allergies can also lead to what's called "allergic shiners." These dark circles are caused by inflamed and swollen blood vessels that result from nasal allergies. But they can look a lot like black eyes. If neither of these reasons seem likely, see a doctor.