An eyeball bruise is when small blood vessels in the eye are damaged and leak blood, similar to how a bruise forms anywhere else on your body.
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Many types of eye injuries can cause damage and potential bruising to the eye. Such injuries include black eyes, subconjunctival hemorrhage, corneal abrasion, and acute hyphema.
Black eyes and bruised eyeballs are similar yet different injuries. A black eye refers to a bruise around the eye and eyelid, while a bruised eyeball is bleeding that has occurred directly in the eye.
The greatest concern about any eye injury is loss of vision. Older children and adults are able to communicate any vision loss, while younger children need an eye exam to confirm the effects on their vision.
A bruise on the eyeball can look alarming, as it turns at least part of the white of your eye bright red. Fortunately, eyeball bruises are typically harmless and heal on their own within a few weeks.
What Is an Eyeball Bruise?
Your eyeball can become bruised if something hits your eye or nose. A bruise, which can happen anywhere on the body, occurs when small blood vessels break and leak into their surrounding area.
Bruises leave a familiar dark red or purple mark on the surface of your skin. On your eyeball, the bruise appears bright red as the blood collects just behind the clear layer of your eyeball.
Injuries That Cause Eye Bruises
Multiple types of eye injuries can cause eyeball and eye bruises. Debris can fly into the eye, or objects can hit the face or eye, causing cuts and bruising.
Types of eye injuries caused by trauma to the eyes include:
Black eyes are bruises and swelling of the eyelid and area around the eye. The bruising usually gets worse for the first couple of days but then heals on its own over the next two to three weeks.
When the white part of the eyeball, the sclera, becomes bruised, it is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The bruise is bright red, caused by a scratch or hit to the eyeball, and usually goes away after about two weeks.
The most common type of eye injury that must be seen by an eye doctor, corneal abrasions are scratches to the cornea caused by a foreign object that got in the eye. While painful, most scratches are minor and heal within a couple of days.
Caused by blunt trauma to the eye, acute hyphema is a serious eye injury that refers to bleeding in the area between the cornea and iris.
Another serious eye injury, a punctured eyeball occurs when small objects shoot into the eye and completely tear the cornea or sclera.
The above injuries vary in severity. Some require immediate medical attention, and others leave behind a distinct bruise that should go away on its own over time.
Black Eye vs. a Bruised Eyeball
A black eye and a bruised eyeball can be caused by the same thing, but they are slightly different conditions. A black eye appears when someone is punched or hit in the face. The area around the eye, including the eyelid, usually swells and a dark bruise appears on the skin.
A bruised eyeball, or subconjunctival hemorrhage, is when the small blood vessels just under the surface of your eye are damaged and break. The blood then collects under the clear conjunctiva of the eye, but in front of the white sclera of the eye. Rather than appearing like a dark purple bruise on the skin, a bruised eyeball is bright red wherever the blood vessels break.
In either situation, a black eye or a bruised eyeball, the conditions typically look worse than they are. Both types of damage are usually harmless and heal within a matter of weeks. In the case of a bruised eyeball, you may not even feel any pain or realize you have a bruised eyeball until you look in the mirror.
In addition to injury or trauma to the eye, a bruised eyeball can also be caused by the following:
- Violent coughing, sneezing, or vomiting
- Use of contact lenses
- Intravitreal eye injections
- Eye surgery
It can take a while for the blood in the conjunctiva of the eye to clear, typically longer than it takes a regular bruise on your skin to heal. With time, the eye will heal itself and the body will reabsorb the blood.
Concerns & Complications
Seattle Children’s Hospital explains that the primary concern following an eyeball bruise or any injury to the eye is whether the patient’s vision has been damaged or not. Older children can tell their parents, and adults can tell their doctors, if their vision is blurry or out of focus.
It is harder to diagnose vision problems in young children. For this reason, it is recommended that all children under the age of 5 receive a vision exam following any injuries to the eye. A vision exam is the only way to ensure that their vision is unaffected.
Additional complications following an eye injury warrant an immediate call or visit to the doctor. Medical care should be sought right away if any of the following occur:
- Pupils are not equal in size.
- A sharp object hit the eye.
- Skin around the eye split open and needs stitches.
- There is a cut on the eyelid or eyeball.
- The patient is less than 1 year old.
If your child or the person who got hurt sustained a serious injury and you believe the problem is urgent, you should not hesitate to seek medical care. Bruises near the eye are not always cause for immediate concern, but it is important to respond diligently to all eye injuries.
Bruising Your Eyeball
A bruised eyeball can look alarming but it is not necessarily as bad as it looks. Many eye injuries can lead to a bruised eyeball or area around the eye, and most heal entirely on their own.
While you may not like to walk around with a bright red eye, it will usually heal fairly quickly. After a couple of weeks, the blood from the bruise will be entirely reabsorbed, and your eye will return to its normal state.
- Black Eye. (October 2020). National Health Service UK.
- Eye Injury. (August 2020). Seattle Children’s Hospital.
- Bruises. (August 2020). Cleveland Clinic.
- What Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage? (April 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
- Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Risk Factors and Potential Indicators. (June 2013). Clinical Ophthalmology.