A black eye typically heals on its own, without the need for medical attention. There are several ways to help ease the pain and speed up the healing process.
A black eye is a bruise that develops around the eye, usually in response to a blow to the head or face.
Below, we explore the healing stages of a black eye and give some tips for a quicker recovery. We also describe when to see a doctor about this and other types of bruising.
A black eye is a bruise around the eye area. Like other bruises, it occurs when tiny blood vessels beneath the skin rupture, causing blood to pool in surrounding tissues.
Most black eyes form following blows to the eye area, which is delicate. Because the skin around the eye is thin, blood pooling there creates a noticeable bruise.
Black eyes and other types of bruise change color as they heal. The four stages of healing are:
- Stage 1: Oxygen-rich blood pools at the site of the injury, creating a bump that may appear red or purple.
- Stage 2: The body begins to break down a component of the blood called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. As the pooled blood loses oxygen, the bruise may turn blue or purple due to the creation of the compounds bilirubin and biliverdin.
- Stage 3: The body continues to break down the pooled blood. After 5–10 days, the bruise may turn green or yellow in a person with lighter skin.
- Stage 4: Between 10 and 14 days later, the bruise may be light brown or the color may not be noticeable.
It is highly unlikely that a black eye will go away within 24 hours. Generally, bruises are dark for at least a few days.
The time needed for healing depends on several factors, including:
- The severity of the bruise: A small bruise typically heals faster.
- The person’s age: Older people tend to have weaker blood vessels and thinner skin — and each can increase a person’s susceptibility to bruising and delay healing.
- Certain underlying health issues: The following medical conditions can also increase a person’s susceptibility to bruising and delay healing:
- certain nutrient deficiencies
- blood clotting disorders
- liver disease
- Whether the person is taking certain medications: The following medications can increase a person’s susceptibility to bleeding and bruising:
- blood-thinning medications
- steroids, such as prednisone
- certain anticancer drugs
A person can use the following strategies to speed up the healing process:
Wrap an ice pack in a towel and rest it gently against the eye for 10 minutes at a time, with at least 20 minutes between each application. This will help reduce immediate swelling.
Never apply ice or an ice pack directly to the skin, as it can cause skin damage.
Once the bruise has fully developed, applying gentle heat will boost blood flow to the area, helping to speed healing.
To do this, try soaking a cotton pad in warm water and applying it to the bruise.
Taking over-the-counter medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs, can help alleviate pain while reducing swelling around the bruise.
Having a bruise-healing diet
Certain foods may help strengthen blood vessels and promote overall skin health. Some foods that may help minimize, prevent, or heal bruises include:
- Pineapple: This contains a group of enzymes called bromelain, which may help prevent inflammation and reduce the severity and persistence of bruises.
- Foods rich in quercetin: The plant pigment quercetin may help strengthen blood vessels and ease inflammation. The following foods are good sources of quercetin:
- citrus fruits
- dark berries
- red onions
- leafy greens
- Foods rich in zinc: This metal helps strengthen tissues and promote healing. The following foods are a good source of zinc:
- Foods rich in vitamin K: A vitamin K deficiency can cause a person to bruise easily. To minimize the risk, eat vitamin K-rich foods, such as:
- leafy greens
- Brussels sprouts
- Protein-rich foods: Protein helps strengthen blood vessels and other tissues. Opt for sources low in saturated fats and cholesterol, such as:
- poultry without the skin
- lean cuts of meat
A black eye is a normal reaction to an injury in the delicate eye area. Most black eyes heal on their own in a few weeks without the need for medical treatment.
However, a person should see a doctor if they have any of the following:
- a black eye that develops with no clear cause
- a black eye that does not go away within 3 weeks
- severe pain or swelling
- heat or pus in the area
- blurred vision
- a persistent headache
- a fever or chills
If any of the following accompany a black eye, the eye socket may be broken:
- bleeding in the white of the eye
- any numbness around the eye
- inability to move the eye
- light sensitivity
- a drooping eyelid
- a bulging or sunken eye
- a flattened cheek
In this case, the person needs professional treatment.
- a headache
- trouble seeing
- light sensitivity
- an enlarged or irregularly shaped pupil
- ringing in the ears
- trouble with memory and concentration
- difficulty sleeping
Concussion can be serious, even if the symptoms seem mild. Anyone who may have this issue should receive medical attention right away.
A black eye happens when an injury to the area causes blood vessels beneath the skin to burst. This causes blood to pool just beneath the surface of the skin, creating a bruise around the eye.
Most bruises heal on their own within a few weeks. In the meantime, home care strategies can help. A person might try using an ice pack wrapped in a towel right away, using a warm compress after the bruise has developed, and taking over-the-counter medications to alleviate the swelling and pain.
Certain health issues and medications can cause a person to bruise more easily. Anyone who has persistent or frequent bruising should consult a doctor — especially if there is no clear cause.