Getting a black eye can be super painful and draw unwanted attention to your appearance. Thankfully, there are some simple but important steps you can take to make your shiner fade as quickly as possible.
Contrary to the best boxing movies of our time, putting raw steak on your eye is a bad idea. Not only is it a little icky, it also increases your chances of an eye infection. Instead, follow these tips to heal your black eye fast and safely.
How serious is a black eye?
Essentially, a black eye is a bruise in the area near your eye. It happens when fluid from broken blood vessels pools under the skin. Black eyes are usually caused by something accidentally striking your eye area. Most of the time it’s not serious.
Technically called a periorbital hematoma, a shiner tends to be darker and puffier than a bruise would be on other parts of your body. That’s because the tissue and skin around your eye is thinner and more sensitive. Broken blood vessels that might show up as a slightly reddish bruise on your thigh, for instance, can seem purple or midnight blue near your eye.
Thankfully, black eyes tend to look more intense than they truly are. In most cases, a black eye won’t hamper your vision. You’ll want to watch for signs of infection around a shiner, though, because it can lead to complications that might affect your eyesight.
And there are a few other conditions that tend to happen along with a black eye. Tiny cuts in the skin under your eye can become irritated or infected if left untreated. You also might notice reddening in the white of your eye. This is known as subconjunctival hemorrhage. It isn’t serious and usually heals on its own.
On the flip side, some people with a black eye develop a condition called hyphema. This happens when blood pools in the front of your eye between your iris and cornea. Hyphema is serious and should be treated immediately. If not, it can lead to vision loss from glaucoma.
What steps can I stake to heal a black eye?
Even if a black eye isn’t severe, it won’t disappear right away. The fastest way to get rid of a shiner is to apply something cold to your eye area immediately after the injury, then switch to heat a day later. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, All About Vision and Verywell Health offer these pointers to help your eye heal:
Tips for using cold to heal a black eye:
- Immediately apply cold to the bruised area for 10 to 20 minutes to prevent fluid from collecting and causing a bigger bruise. You can use a cold compress, an ice pack, a bag of frozen veggies, or a spoon chilled in the freezer — whatever best conforms to the black-and-blue area.
- Make sure to wrap your cold compress with a clean cloth to avoid over-chilling your skin.
- Continue to apply cold for 10 to 20 minutes every hour or two for the first 24 hours.
Tips for using heat to heal a black eye:
- Once there’s no more swelling, follow the first day’s cold treatments with warm, moist heat on days two and three.
- Roll up a warm, damp washcloth and gently place it on the bruise for about 10 minutes. Repeat as needed throughout the day, taking a break of at least 10 minutes between applications, to improve circulation around the bruise.
- Don’t use a hot compress. Instead, let the temperature drop to warm to avoid further irritating your eye.
Other tips to help a shiner heal quickly:
- Treat any pain that accompanies a black eye with over-the-counter medications. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is better than aspirin, which is a blood thinner that can make a shiner look worse.
- Rest as much as possible to give your immune system a chance to do its job. Sleep with your head slightly elevated to reduce swelling.
- Very gently massage the non-bruised area around your eye. This may help with circulation and healing.
- Add foods rich in vitamin C like pineapple, papaya, oranges and strawberries to your diet, or take a vitamin C supplement while your black eye is healing.
- Apply topical creams or gels containing vitamin K or arnica to help bruising fade.
- Protect your injured eye from more damage. Avoid contact sports and wear safety glasses or sunglasses during activities that could lead to accidents or expose your eye to irritants.
When should people with black eyes see a doctor?
Most shiners heal on their own, but they often look worse before they get better. You should always check in with your eye doctor to make sure there aren’t any complications, though. That’s especially true when you show signs of a more serious injury.
Make sure to see a doctor if you have any of the following:
- blurry or double vision
- extreme pain
- light sensitivity
- severe headaches
- bleeding in your eye, ears or nose
- bruising around both eyes
- difficulty breathing through your nose
These symptoms could be signs of an infection like cellulitis or a skull fracture — conditions that need treatment right away.