unexplained black eye elderly

Unexplained black eye in elderly: Causes and treatments

5 min read |

Getting an unexplained black eye as an elderly person can be upsetting.

Especially if the recipient can’t remember how it occurred.

Thankfully the black eye itself is normally not serious, but it can be sore and require care at home.

This article will help carers treat an unexplained black eye in elderly with tips to manage the injury safely.

Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover in this article:

  • A black eye occurs due to bruising in the tissues around the eye. Blood vessels burst and cause dark discolouration, tenderness and swelling.
  • As the skin is very thin in this area, discolouration can cause it to look much worse than it actually is. 
  • An unexplained black eye in elderly may be a cause for concern for something else. If they can’t remember an accident or injury or could have lost consciousness, it’s best to consult a doctor.

What is a black eye?

A black eye is a bruise in the tissues underneath or around the eye. 

Bruising of the tissue is caused by fluid collecting around the eye which causes it to be swollen and tender. 

The swelling can also lead to some interesting colour changes to the skin.

Due to burst capillaries in the tissue around the eye, it can take on a dark purplish or black colour. 

What’s interesting is that it doesn’t take much for bruising around the eye to occur. 

This is because the skin around the eye is thin and transparent.

It is prone to swelling easily and even a small build up of blood can cause bad discolouration.

elderly man black eye

What causes a black eye in elderly?

There are many different situations and accidents which could result in getting a black eye. 

Any knock or bang to the face can cause a black eye.

This is known as a trauma, which often occurs during an accident or sadly, an assault. 

Whether its general clumsiness or increasing frailty, there are many situations in which trauma can occur around the eye. 

For example

  • Falls
  • Bumps to the face
  • Walking into things
  • Falling out of bed

Other causes of a black eye

Even if it doesn’t seem like much, if tender skin receives a bump a black eye may develop.

These situations are, however, quite obvious and you or your loved one will notice having been hurt at the time.

There are other times when an unexplained black eye in elderly people occurs which isn’t the result of direct trauma.

This could occur in situations such as:

  • dental work or surgery around the face, nose or eyes
  • high blood pressure leading to burst capillary
  • sinus infection or an infection around the eyes
  • a skull fracture which can cause trauma in both eyes
  • an allergic reaction or other health condition

Worried about your loved one?

Early signs of dementia free guide

Is unexplained black eye in elderly serious? 

Black eyes from bumps are not usually serious, but they can be painful and unsightly. 

However, an unexplained black eye in elderly could be an indication of an accident which they can’t remember. 

This could be due to loss of consciousness or conditions that cause cognitive decline, such as dementia. 

Unexplained black eyes that occur alongside loss of consciousness could have serious health implications. 

Speak with your GP

In these circumstances, you should consult a doctor. 

This is because elderly people, especially those with dementia, are often very frail.

If they have fallen and lost consciousness or hurt themselves but are unable to remember how, they are at risk of other health complications. 

This could be more serious than a simple unexplained black eye, so be sure to consult a doctor. 


dementia diagnosis

How to treat an unexplained black eye in elderly people

If an elderly person presents with an unexplained black eye, you should seek to understand the cause. 

This could help to determine the severity of the swelling and identify any other health risks. 

This can be done through making an appointment with their GP.  

When should you see your GP?

The NHS recommends calling 111 or asking for an urgent GP appointment if you or your loved one is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • severe pain or swelling
  • a headache that does not go away, or blurry vision
  • the area around the eye is warm or leaking pus
  • high temperature or feeling hot and shivery
  • you’re taking blood-thinning medicine such as warfarin
  • you have a bleeding disorder such as haemophilia

Confused about funding for care?

Free Care Funding Guide Download

When should you go to A&E?

The NHS recommends going to A&E if you or your elderly loved one is experiencing the following symptoms: 

  • there’s blood visible in the eye
  •  have an irregularly shaped pupil (the black dot at the centre of the eye)
  • you had a blow to the head and have bruising around both eyes
  • you have problems with your vision, such as double vision, loss of vision, seeing flashing light, halos or shadows, or pain when looking at a bright light
  • you cannot move your eye

If the black eye is due to a known trauma to the eye or face and there are no other symptoms, there’s no need to worry.

You may experience discolouration of the skin for up to 3 weeks, but there is a low further health risk. 

How to care for a black eye

To help ease the symptoms of a black eye in elderly follow these tips

  • hold an ice pack or cold compress to the area around your eye for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, and repeat regularly during the first 1 to 2 days
  • take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for any pain
  • after day two, gently apply a warm heat pack or cloth to the area around your eye regularly during the day

Find the care you need

There is a wide variety of care available to assist families during life’s later years, and it’s easy to find with Sweet Pea.

Set up your free Sweet Pea profile in minutes and enter your loved ones’ care and support needs.

Then sit back and let us do the hard work, we’ll find carers within your area in minutes.