Skip to main content

What to Do About a Black Eye

Doctor examines black eye

Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced bruising around the eye, also known as a 'black eye' or 'shiner.' Generally a result of some kind of trauma around the eye, a black eye appears as blood and other fluids collect in the surrounding tissues.

Common causes include sports injuries, collisions with door frames, or even a punch in the nose. But black eyes can also result from cosmetic, dental, or nasal surgery—even a sinus infection.

As the body's natural responses to repair damaged blood vessels kick in, the injury progresses through a week or two of tenderness, swelling, and bruises that morph from deep purple or blue to a yellowish hue.

Generally, a black eye is like any other bruise and not a cause for extreme concern. However—if any of these things happen, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Blood inside the eye (this could be a sign of hyphema—when the injury causes a tear of the iris or pupil)
  • Blood flow from the ears or nose
  • Severe pain
  • Dizziness, fainting, or loss of consciousness
  • Changes in vision, including blurry vision, double vision, vision loss, or flashes and floaters
  • Bruising around both eyes, vomiting, inability to move the eye
  • Behavioral changes or lethargy
  • Persistent headache
  • Signs of infection, such as warmth, redness, fever, or discharge from the eye
  • Excessive swelling

At-Home Treatment: Save the Steak for the Grill

To care for a minor black eye at home, apply a cold compress as soon as possible following the injury. A bag of frozen peas works better than ice cubes, as it conforms more easily to the face.

Another option is to chill a metal spoon in the refrigerator (not the freezer) and gently apply the back of the spoon to different parts of the bruised area.

What you don't want to do is put raw meat on the eye. Despite what you may have seen in movies or cartoons, that is a huge no-no. Among other unsavory results, it can increase the risk of infection.

For minor pain, over-the-counter analgesics, such as Tylenol, may help.


Your eyes are delicate and irreplaceable, so protect them whenever possible.

If you or your kids participate sports with high rates of eye injuries—including baseball, basketball, anything with racquets that hurl objects toward the face, and even fishing—wear some form of eye protection—preferably polycarbonate lenses that wrap around the eye area.

Occupational hazards include flying particles or objects. If your job involves these, safety goggles should be a part of your daily routine.

Prevention is your best bet, but in the event of a shiner, it's good to know what's normal and what needs attention.