Should You Really Put a Steak on a Black Eye?

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A kid at my son's playground recently got a nasty shiner and I overheard a nanny telling the kid's mom that she should put a cold steak on the eye to help with the swelling. I immediately remembered all those cartoons I watched when I was kid, and how they were always putting big, thick, raw steaks on black eyes. Hmmm, I thought, maybe the nanny was right. Maybe meat is better than a cold compress, or ice. I ran home and started researching at once.

Turns out, as you might expect, there are many differing opinions, although I couldn't find one doctor or qualified professional who recommended putting any cut of meat on the eye.

A black eye, or shiner, or periorbital hematoma occurs when blood accumulates around the eye socket, where there's a lot of empty space. As the blood soaks into the area, pigments are released, not unlike a bruise, causing that dramatic discoloration and swelling.

The thinking behind the steak, at least according to some, is that the meat draws out water build-up, which reduces swelling. Plus, it's cold (if taken from the fridge) and malleable, thus form-fitting and comfortable after such a contusion.

Another theory floating around out there is that back in the old days, when an ice box was really just a gigantic block of ice in a box, meat was sometimes used as an ice-substitute because the ice itself was so valuable and hard to come by. One didn't want to chip away at the block because then it wouldn't last as long.

But the problem with a raw steak, or even a frozen one, is that there are likely bacteria on the meat, which is why no one really recommends it.

So unless you're a cartoon character, you should probably stick to more traditional remedies, and be sure to see your doctor to make sure it's just a nasty-looking bruise and nothing more serious.