A black eye usually looks more dramatic than it is. Most are caused by a bang or punch to the forehead, or around the eye or nose. I got one by mistiming the revolving door to the office once. A black eye occurs because there is space under the eye for blood to accumulate as the skin here is loose and there’s fatty tissue with not much muscle.
A black eye — or shiner as it’s affectionately known — is really a bruise around the eye. It starts off red, then goes darker, passing through such wonderful hues as violet, black and finally greeny-yellow. It’s usually swollen and may hurt a bit. It takes about a week to fade.
There are other reasons for swellings around the eyes, such as allergic reactions, so if you have something that looks like a black eye but haven’t had a blow to your eye (and haven’t been drinking so much you didn’t notice) then you should see your doctor.
If you’ve had a serious head injury as well as hitting your face, then you should see a doctor urgently. Likewise if you start seeing double, you can’t move your eye, your sight goes, you have blood actually in your eye or fluid leaking from your eye or nose, or you think you might have directly damaged your eye. A severe headache that doesn’t get better is also a good reason to see your doctor.
If you have any bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning treatment you also need to get medical help.
There’s a condition when people have two black eyes (called raccoon eyes) which, while it may look funny, can also be more serious.
But if you think you do just have a simple shiner, then try putting an ice pack around but not directly on your eye (ice in a plastic bag with some covering around it — a tea towel, say). A bag of frozen peas is good — but don’t just stick ice or even the frozen peas around your eye without wrapping them in a cloth. Doing this on and off for the first 48 hours, for five to 10 minutes at a time, should reduce swelling.
Do not put steak (raw or cooked) on your eye; it’s an old wives tale that doesn’t work. Sticking raw meat on your delicate eye area is more likely to cause harm (eg infect the eye) than good.
In the old days doctors apparently used leeches to treat black eyes. Nowadays, just some rest and paracetamol are recommended.