What is a black eye?

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A black eye is not uncommon after an injury to the face or the head. Even with minor impact to the face, it results to an undesirable looking “shiner”. The swelling and distinctive black-and-blue color occurs once the small blood vessels in the face and neck break while blood and other fluids accumulate in the area around the eye.

Most cases of black eye are relatively minor bruises that can heal on their own in a span of 3-5 days. As the bruise starts to heal, the swelling around the eye diminishes and the skin often turns from black and blue to green and yellow. Oftentimes, a black eye is a warning indication of a serious face, head or eye injury. Take note that two black eyes after an impact to the head should be taken seriously since it might indicate a severe trauma to the head such as a skull fracture. Even though rare, a black eye can also indicate damage to the eyeball itself.

Signs and symptoms of a black eye

  • Swelling and pain around the eyelid and eye socket. In some cases, the affected eye can actually swell shut.
  • Discoloration surrounding the eyelid and eye socket
  • Blurring of vision can also occur for a short period
  • Minor headaches or neck pain can also occur after sustaining a blow to the head
Swelling and pain around the eyelid and eye socket.

When to seek medical care

If the individual experiences the following conditions along with a black eye, it is best to seek medical care in order to rule out possible serious eye or head injuries.

  • Changes or loss of vision that does not clear up quickly
  • Persistent or severe pain
  • Swelling that persists for more than 48 hours
  • Blood pooling in the eye
  • Any injury caused by an object in the eye
  • Missing or broken teeth
  • Lacerations or cuts in or close to the eye
  • Any deformity in the face, eye socket or jaw that might indicate a fracture
  • Confusion or changes in behavior
  • Drainage of fluid from the mouth, nose, eyes or ears
  • Indications of concussion or other serious head injuries that might have occurred from head trauma

Treatment for a black eye

Most cases of black eye can heal on their own within a span of a few days but there are measures that can help hasten the healing process as well as minimize pain.

  • The individual should stop any activity and apply ice wrapped in a thin cloth to the area around the eye.
  • Avoid applying direct pressure on the eyeball itself.
  • You have to keep the ice over the area for 15 minutes at a time every waking hour for the initial 24 hours.
  • Keep the head elevated while sleeping by using two cushions or pillows. This can help minimize the swelling throughout the night.
  • Pain medication can help minimize the inflammation, swelling and pain, but avoid using aspirin which might increase the bleeding.
  • Continue to apply an ice pack several times in a day until the swelling subsides.
  • Make sure to check for any warning indications of serious head injury for up to 48 hours.
  • Allow the affected eye to heal before the individual returns to sports.

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