Black eye healing stages: Timeline and tips

A black eye typically heals on its own, without the need for medical attention. There are several ways to help ease the pain and speed up the healing process.

A black eye is a bruise that develops around the eye, usually in response to a blow to the head or face.

Below, we explore the healing stages of a black eye and give some tips for a quicker recovery. We also describe when to see a doctor about this and other types of bruising.

A black eye is a bruise around the eye area. Like other bruises, it occurs when tiny blood vessels beneath the skin rupture, causing blood to pool in surrounding tissues.

Most black eyes form following blows to the eye area, which is delicate. Because the skin around the eye is thin, blood pooling there creates a noticeable bruise.

Black eyes and other types of bruise change color as they heal. The four stages of healing are:

  • Stage 1: Oxygen-rich blood pools at the site of the injury, creating a bump that may appear red or purple.
  • Stage 2: The body begins to break down a component of the blood called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. As the pooled blood loses oxygen, the bruise may turn blue or purple due to the creation of the compounds bilirubin and biliverdin.
  • Stage 3: The body continues to break down the pooled blood. After 5–10 days, the bruise may turn green or yellow in a person with lighter skin.
  • Stage 4: Between 10 and 14 days later, the bruise may be light brown or the color may not be noticeable.

It is highly unlikely that a black eye will go away within 24 hours. Generally, bruises are dark for at least a few days.

The time needed for healing depends on several factors, including:

  • The severity of the bruise: A small bruise typically heals faster.
  • The person’s age: Older people tend to have weaker blood vessels and thinner skin — and each can increase a person’s susceptibility to bruising and delay healing.
  • Certain underlying health issues: The following medical conditions can also increase a person’s susceptibility to bruising and delay healing:
    • infections
    • certain nutrient deficiencies
    • blood clotting disorders
  • Whether the person is taking certain medications: The following medications can increase a person’s susceptibility to bleeding and bruising:
    • blood-thinning medications
    • steroids, such as prednisone
    • certain anticancer drugs

A person can use the following strategies to speed up the healing process:

Applying ice

Wrap an ice pack in a towel and rest it gently against the eye for 10 minutes at a time, with at least 20 minutes between each application. This will help reduce immediate swelling.

Never apply ice or an ice pack directly to the skin, as it can cause skin damage.

Applying heat

Once the bruise has fully developed, applying gentle heat will boost blood flow to the area, helping to speed healing.

To do this, try soaking a cotton pad in warm water and applying it to the bruise.

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