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How Serious is a Black Eye?

smiling black woman wearing eyeglasses | How Serious is a Black Eye?Your Clarksville, TN, Eye Doctor Discusses Unsightly Shiners

Swollen black eyes are a fright to see and even more frightening to experience. However, before you panic about your (or your child’s) black eye, know that most of them heal and clear up on their own within a few days to weeks. What about the rest of the time? Although it is less common, a black eye can sometimes indicate more serious eye damage. Dr. Lisa Ely, experienced optometrist in Clarksville, TN, explains the basics of a black eye – what it is, how to treat it, and when to seek emergency eye care.

Why is my eye black?

To be accurate, typically the eye isn’t black; the area around your eye is where you see discoloration. The official term for a black eye is a “periorbital hematoma,” defined as “accumulation of blood in the tissues that surround the eye.” Blunt force trauma to your eye area breaks blood vessels under your skin. Because the skin around your eye is loose and thin, blood and other fluids collect there easily and are seen clearly. After an injury, this area swells with fluid very quickly.

Sometimes, the white of your eye (sclera) will also turn bright red due to bleeding under the membrane that covers your eye’s surface. While the sight of a red eye can look shocking and make you squirm, it is also generally not serious and heals without medical intervention.

How did I get a black eye? I didn’t suffer any eye injury!

The classic cause of a black eye is when something hits your face with force. Yet, there are other causes, including cosmetic eye surgery and nasal surgery. Puffiness around your eye can also be caused by a severe sinus infection, tooth infection, and some kinds of dental work.

Serious health problems that can cause a black eye include:

  • Hyphema: bleeding between the back of the cornea and the front of the iris inside your eye; this is a medical emergency that can lead to vision loss
  • Cellulitis (infection) in the tissues around the eyes
  • Skull fracture

How can I tell if my black eye is serious and requires emergency care?

A standard shiner has different symptoms from a black eye that is due to a more serious problem.

Regular black eye symptoms:

  • Swelling around the eye; this may start out mild and then get worse, possibly making it hard to open the eye
  • Discoloration, soreness and bruising around the eye; usually, the skin is red at first and then changes to dark purple, yellow, green or black
  • Blurred vision

Signs that a black eye may be from a serious head injury:

If you notice any of these symptoms, our Clarksville, TN, eye doctor recommends that you seek emergency eye care treatment:

  • Vision Loss
  • Inability to move the eye
  • Blood on the surface of the eyeball
  • Blood or fluid coming out from your nose or ears
  • Double vision
  • Severe or constant headache
  • Fainting
  • Vomiting

What is treatment for a black eye?

A typical black eye (without more serious symptoms) can be treated at home, according to the following guidelines:

Day One and Two: On the first day after your injury, relieve pain and swelling with the gentle application of an ice pack to your eye for about 15-20 minutes, once an hour. No ice pack in the freezer? Use a bag of frozen vegetables or ice cubes wrapped in a cloth (placing them directly on your face can freeze your skin) are both great alternatives. Coldness constricts blood vessels, thereby limiting the swelling.

Additionally, a mild pain-reliever, such as Tylenol, may help. However, do not take aspirin, because it is a blood thinner and can worsen the appearance of your black eye.

Despite the Hollywood images of fighters laying a slab of raw meat on their black eye, really this is a dangerous response to a black eye! Raw meat hosts many bacteria that can cause infection when placed against a wound.

Day Three: switch from cold to warm compresses in order to enhance blood flow to the ocular area, which promotes healing

Are there any other ways to help heal a black eye?

Some studies encourage taking vitamin C supplements to strengthen blood vessels, as well as eating pineapple, which contains enzymes that reduce swelling. Another nutritional tip is to eat bilberry extract; it contains potent antioxidants that may diminish bruising in the body.

In addition to the above nutritional approaches to bolster your body’s natural healing process, you need to develop patience! The vast majority of the time, a black eye will look much better in a week and disappear entirely within a few weeks. As it heals, the color of your skin will change colors a number of times before your normal skin tone returns.

Avoiding further injury goes far towards enabling your eye to heal. Our Clarksville, TN, optometrist cautions to protect your eye carefully during recuperation. To put it bluntly – use common sense and stay away from any sports or activities that involve crashing into other players or being in the path of flying objects. If you do choose to engage in physical activities, remember to wear safety glasses or protective sports eyewear.

I have a classic black eye. Do I need an eye exam?

After a few days, the swelling and pain of your black eye should subside. If this doesn’t occur, or if you detect any other vision disturbances, contact your eye doctor to book an emergency eye exam.

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