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Bruised Eye Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated June 9, 2022

Bruised eye quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your bruised eye.

A bruised eye is a common symptom resulting from trauma from a direct injury to the face, or surgery. Read below for more information on causes, how long a black eye will last, and treatment options.

4 most common cause(s)

Illustration of a doctor beside a bedridden patient.
Inflamed eyelid (blepharitis)
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Scratched Eye
Illustration of a person thinking with cross bandaids.
Eye-socket (orbital) fracture
Illustration of a health care worker swabbing an individual.
Traumatic brain injury

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Symptoms of a bruised eye

Aside from being unsightly and hard to ignore, a bruised eye can be painful and possibly affect vision. Our eyes and the structure around them are sensitive and easily damaged by trauma. Our vision is reliant on our eyes' health, so it is important to care for the bruised eye and prevent any long-term side effects.

The more common term for a bruised eye is "black eye," and the medical term is ecchymosis. Black eyes can arrive quickly and, sometimes, simply disappear over time. Understanding the symptoms will be important in determining if there are more significant implications.

Common symptoms of a bruised eye are:

The proper function of the eye relies on many components. Tissue and bones surround and protect the eye. Some of these bones are thick, while others are delicate and thin. Bruised eye symptoms are the result of damage to one or more of these components.

Causes of a bruised eye

A bruised eye is likely the result of a traumatic event that causes bleeding and discoloration around the eye. Often times, a bruised eye is caused by damage to the tissue surrounding the eye, but trauma to the bones can have a similar effect. Most of us think about bruised eyes in the context of a post-fight injury or other traumatic event, however, the vast majority of bruised eyes occur through accidental impact.

The tissues surrounding the eye, and the eye itself, are soft and easily damaged. The eye socket surrounding the eye is made of thick bones that require significant trauma for an injury. Conversely, the bones on the nose side of the eye are extremely thin and can be damaged by minor traumatic events.

Common causes of a bruised eye include:

  • Trauma (Tissue): Either from a physical altercation, athletic event, or an accident around the house, impact to the eye and surrounding region from a traumatic event is the most common cause of a bruised eye.
  • Surgery: Procedures performed on the face may result in damage to the tissue around the eye and cause bruised eye symptoms.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Uncomplicated black eye

Black eyes are usually nothing more than a bruise around the eye without any complications, as is likely in this case. However, all black eyes need to be examined by a doctor to rule out facial fracture, damage to the nerves around the eye, and other possible injuries to the eye itself.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swelling of the eye area, bruised eye, constant eye bruise, eye pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with uncomplicated black eye: bruised eye, eye pain from an injury, constant eye bruise

Symptoms that never occur with uncomplicated black eye: double vision

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Traumatic brain injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. This can happen commonly as a result of falls, sports injuries, and car or bike accidents. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

You should call an ambulance to go to the hospital immediately. There, doctors will examine you and may take images of your head (like a CT scan) to see if there's any bleeding.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: new headache, irritability, clear runny nose, vision changes, general numbness

Symptoms that always occur with traumatic brain injury: head injury

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Inflamed eyelid (blepharitis)

Inflamed eyelid, or blepharitis, is a bacterial infection of the skin at the base of the eyelashes.

If the oil glands around the eyelashes become clogged, normal skin bacteria will multiply in the oil and cause infection. The glands can become blocked due to dandruff of the scalp and eyebrows; allergies to eye makeup or contact lens solution; or eyelash mites or lice.

Symptoms include red, swollen, painful eyelids; oily, dandruff-like flakes of skin at the base of the eyelashes; and eyelashes that grow abnormally or fall out.

If the symptoms do not clear with hygiene, see a medical provider. Blepharitis can become chronic and lead to infections of the eyelids and cornea; dry eyes which cannot take contact lenses; and scarring and deformity of the eyelids.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the eyelids, under magnification and through skin swab of the eyelashes.

Treatment includes warm compresses and careful washing of the eyelids; antibiotics in pill or cream form; steroid eyedrops; and treatment for any underlying condition such as dandruff or rosacea.

Eye-socket (orbital) fracture

The middle part of the face or around the eye is fragile. A strong force hitting the area can cause an eye-socket fracture, which can often hurt the surrounding soft tissue, making it an emergency to diagnose and treat.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: swelling of the eye area, recent eye injury, eye pain from an injury, bruised eye, recent injury from a fall

Symptoms that always occur with eye-socket (orbital) fracture: eye pain from an injury, recent eye injury

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Corneal abrasion

Corneal abrasion is a wound to the part of the eye known as the cornea. The cornea is the crystal clear (transparent) tissue that covers the front of the eye. It works with the lens of the eye to focus images on the retina.

You should visit the ER if the pain is bad or the injury to the eye is severe. Otherwise, you can use any pain relieving eye drops and your eye should heal in 1-3 days.

Bruise of the face/scalp/neck

A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the back are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

You can treat this at home with rest (exercise as tolerated) and ice (10-20 minutes at a time).

Bruised eye treatments and relief

Depending on the extent of the traumatic event, a bruised eye can often be cared for at home and will remedy itself over several weeks. As with most common bruises, it is not always necessary to contact your doctor. Other factors surrounding the injury, however, may warrant a phone call to your medical professional.

These factors include:

  • Pain/discoloration that continues for longer than two weeks.
  • Significant pain that does not subside.

Contact emergency personnel for the following:

  • Direct damage to or a foreign object found in the eyeball.
  • Eyeball is red and painful.
  • Headaches or nausea
  • Changes in vision.
  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped.

Common cases of bruised eyes from a minor injury can be managed at home through several steps. If the bruised eye is part of a larger health issue, medical professionals will determine advanced treatment.

At-home treatments:

  • Ice/Heat Compression: The key to treating a black eye is to minimize swelling and encourage blood flow. This is accomplished by compressing the bruised eye with both cold and warm treatments for the first 24 hours.
  • Elevation: The head should remain elevated, at least initially, to reduce swelling and minimize damage.

Professional treatments:

  • Surgery: Damage to the eyeball itself or fractures to the bones surrounding the eye may require surgical procedures to repair. Medical professionals will recommend the proper course of action.

Sometimes it is surprising how often we put our eyes in harm's way. Whether from an intentional act or by mistake, bruised eye symptoms are, unfortunately, common. The good news is that, aside from spending some time with an unsightly bruise, long-term effects are usually minimal. Bruising may get worse, spreading to the cheek or the other eye, before it gets better, but proper treatments will help relieve bruised eye symptoms and return the area to its normal appearance.

Questions your doctor may ask about bruised eye

  • Did you get hit in the head?
  • Have you noticed any vision changes?
  • Were you hit or injured anywhere on your face? If so, where?
  • Did you faint?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 1 other is saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Ongoing Eyebrow Bone PainPosted December 21, 2021 by L.
A year ago I passed out briefly and fell, hitting the faucet in my bathroom, which resulted in a black eye. The eye healed within a week or so, but I have had feelings of numbness and something just not being right with the bone underneath the eyebrow ever since. The discomfort is minimal and comes and goes. I had a CT Scan and it showed no abnormalities. Why is this bruising to the bone taking so long to heal? And is there anything that can be done about it? My doctor and ophthalmologist seem to be clueless.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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