Hickeys

What Is a Hickey?

A hickey is a dark red or purple mark on your skin caused by intense suction. Like other bruises, it should fade in about 2 weeks. The neck is a common site for hickeys because of its easy access, but you can get them anywhere.

When your partner sucks on and bites your skin, the pressure breaks little blood vessels under the surface. Those broken vessels release tiny spots of blood called petechiae.

A collection of these blood spots forms a larger dark spot, which is basically a bruise. The bruise may change color over time from red or dark purple to yellow.

Here's a guide to the causes of, and solutions to, hickeys.

How Can I Get Rid of My Hickey?

To bring down swelling and reduce bleeding, put an ice pack on it for the first 1-2 days after the mark appears. Wrap the ice pack in a towel and hold it to your skin for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day. After the second day, you can switch to a warm compress.

If the hickey hurts, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen.

How can I conceal my hickey?

When you have a hickey on your neck, people tend to know how it got there. You can always cover it. Options include:

  • Makeup. Choose your makeup tone based on the color of the hickey. A yellow tone will conceal purple bruises, while a green tone hides redness.
  • Bandage. Choose one large enough to cover the hickey.
  • Turtleneck. This works in cooler weather.
  • Scarf. This may be the most versatile option.
  • Collared shirt. 

How to Avoid a Hickey

Good communication may be the most effective way to prevent a hickey.

  • If your partner spends too much time on one area, suggest another spot.
  • Ask your partner to be more gentle.

Are There Any Risks to Having a Hickey?

A hickey shouldn't cause any real problems, but see a doctor if:

  • The hickey doesn't go away after a couple of weeks.
  • The bruise is very sore.
  • You notice other bruises on your body, especially if you don’t know how you got them.
  • There's a lump over the bruise.

Continued

These symptoms could be a sign of a medical condition, like a blood disease or clotting disorder.

It's not very likely, but a handful of serious injuries have happened after hickeys.

For example, a New Zealand woman got a hickey and became partially paralyzed. Emergency room doctors found a clot in their brain and treated them for a stroke. And a 35-year-old woman in Denmark became weak on their right side from a stroke 12 hours after they'd gotten a hickey.

How might a hickey lead to a stroke? It takes a very unusual set of circumstances. A major blood vessel called the carotid artery runs down either side of your neck. This artery supplies blood to your brain, face, and neck. In theory, putting a lot of pressure on the carotid artery might cause a clot to form or shake loose a clot that's already there.

This series of events is very unlikely. The women in New Zealand and Denmark could have had earlier artery problems that put them at greater risk for a stroke.

To be on the safe side, try not to give or receive a hickey close to the carotid artery. That's the area at the top of your neck, just to the side of your chin.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 03, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Bruises: Management and Treatment."

Lees, M. Skin Care: Beyond the Basics, Cengage Learning, 2013.

Mayo Clinic: "Bruise: First Aid."

Medscape: "Can a Hickey Really Cause a Stroke?"

Ugeskr Laeger: "Love bite on the neck resulted in an embolic stroke."

Payne-James, J. Simpson's Forensic Medicine, CRC Press, 2011.

The New Zealand Medical Journal: "Love bites -- an unusual cause of blunt internal carotid artery injury."

Nemours TeensHealth: “Bruises.”

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