Understanding Black Eye

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on May 10, 2023
2 min read

A ''black eye'' is a bruise to the eyelid skin caused by blunt trauma to the eye region. It may also involve broken blood vessels in the white of the eye itself, called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Like many bruises, a "shiner" is usually nothing to worry about and will disappear in 1-2 weeks.

In some cases, however, a black eye is a warning sign of more serious injury to the eye or to the skull. Any damage to the eyeball that causes it to become red and swollen must be promptly evaluated by a doctor or an eye specialist. Blunt force eye injuries, as occurs in fighting, competitive sports, and ordinary accidents, could involve an unsuspected detached retina, internal bleeding, or other serious problems. An orbital fracture involving one of the five delicate bones around the eye may trap an eye muscle or soft tissues. A fracture could also damage the optic nerve and permanently damage eyesight. If so, you may need emergency surgery to correct the condition.

The signs of a black eye include bruising and swelling of the eyelid and soft tissue around the injured eye. The discoloration starts out deep purple or blue; then, it may turn green or yellow before disappearing, usually in about a week.

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 blacken both eyes in what they call "raccoon eyes" although the eye area itself was not injured.

People with sinusitis from allergies sometimes get "allergic shiners"—darkening under the eyes caused by inflamed and engorged blood vessels—but this is not the same thing as a black eye, which is caused by an injury.

See a doctor for a black eye if:

  • There was loss of consciousness as a result of the injury.
  • Black eyes appear that affect one or both eyes after a head injury; you should be checked by a doctor for possible skull fracture.
  • You have blurry or double vision.
  • You can't move your eyeball in all directions.

Any of the symptoms below may indicate damage to the eyeball, which should be evaluated and treated by an eye care specialist:

  • Your eyeball hurts.
  • You have an open cut around the eye.
  • You have blurred vision, or see multiple images or floating spots or flashes of light.
  • You are bleeding from the eye.
  • You experience unusual sensitivity to light or other vision changes.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

James B., Chew C., Bron A. "Trauma," Lecture Notes on Ophthalmology, Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

American Academy of Ophthalmology.


American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Causes,” “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Treatment,” “What Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage?”

Mayo Clinic: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye): Diagnosis,” “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye): Overview.”

Clinical Ophthalmology: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Risk Factors and Potential Indicators.”

Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage.”

KidsHealth: “A to Z: Subconjunctival Hemorrhage.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage.”

StatPearls: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Subconjunctival Hemorrhage.”

View privacy policy, copyright and trust info