Like Rocky downing several glasses of raw eggs, treating a black eye with a cold-steak compress is something we’re more likely to see in movies than in real life.
This remedy apparently does have its champions, though. The fourth edition of the school textbook Encyclopedia Of Health, published just nine years ago, refers to a cold steak as the “traditional remedy” for a black eye, and notes a wet cloth is “just as good” as a cold slab of beef: “A clean, raw steak provides moisture, coolness, and softness in a form that will mold itself neatly to the shape of the eye.”
Every ophthalmologist in American just felt a shiver down their spine. No, they’ll beg you, do not use a raw steak to treat a black eye.
“Raw meat is not sterile. It’s met inspection, but it still has bacteria on it. That’s the first thing I’d be concerned about: contaminating the eye with bacteria,” Dr. Thomas Steinemann, clinical spokesman for the American Academy Of Ophthalmology, tells The Takeout.
And that’s not the only worry. Steinemann says applying pressure from meat—or even a cloth or cold pack—to an eyeball that’s been injured could further damage it.
“Most important is: Did your eyeball actually get injured? If you are pushing, even gently, with a piece of raw meat on a swollen lid and a swollen eyeball, that’s not safe, because there’s a chance the eyeball itself could be injured and pushing on an injured eyeball is dangerous.”
He says that if a black eye is swollen so badly that it’s impossible to see out of it, it’s time to seek medical attention—not run for the refrigerator’s meat drawer. If the injured eye can still be opened wide enough to see normally, then the black eye can probably be treated with just a cold compress. In a pinch, a bag of frozen vegetables—sealed—will also work.
“It sounds like this raw meat folk remedy goes back even before refrigerators, when people had a big block of ice instead, and they needed something portable, so they’d take meat that was cold and malleable out of there,” Steinemann says. “But now we can do better.”
Unless you want to end up looking like Bob Costas broadcasting the Sochi Olympics, leave the raw steak in your fridge until dinner, and reach for the ice pack instead.