Why might a toddler have dark circles under their eyes?

Did you wake up one morning and notice that Baby has dark circles under their eyes?

Is they tired? Is they not sleeping well? Is the iPad keeping them up at night?

It’s probably none of the above, actually. Unless Baby really has not been getting the sleep they need, those dark patches are probably an example of what are called allergic shiners. As the name suggests, they are a symptom of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.

Other causes can include eczema and heredity, but experts believe that dark circles under the eyes are mainly due to an allergy.

How do allergic shiners happen?

Allergic shiners start with the child coming into contact with an allergen. An allergen is a substance that the body’s immune system reacts against as if it’s a threat, which triggers an allergic reaction like rhinitis.

There are a wide variety of indoor and outdoor allergens that can cause an allergic reaction. Very common allergens include pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and molds.

When a child is exposed to a substance they are allergic to, like dust mites, their immune system will do its job by releasing chemicals as a way of fighting off the foreign invasion. This response will then trigger the four main symptoms of allergic rhinitis: sneezing, itchy nose and eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion or stuffy nose.

Because of the nasal congestion, the blood flow around the eyes can start to get blocked. When it does, the blood gets stuck inside the veins under the eyes, causing the discoloration of the allergic shiners.

Prevention and treatment

Since allergic rhinitis causes allergic shiners, knowing which allergen is triggering the rhinitis is just as important as knowing how to treat it after it begins.

The time of the year that the allergy occurs can give a clue about what your child might be allergic to. This might mean a pollen allergy is the spring, or a mold allergy at a time of the year when your area gets a lot of rain. If it’s a year-round allergy, the culprit may be an indoor airborne allergen, or something that is available throughout the year such as animal dander or dust mites.

The best way to avoid an allergic reaction is to clear the allergen out of your home as much as possible. Here are some ways that you can do that:

  • Go carpet-free. Carpet harbors dust mites and other allergens
  • Use electrostatic dusters instead of plain cloth
  • Install and use a strong air filtration system
  • Change your bed sheets frequently. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, dust mites feed on dead skin cells which bedding collects
  • If your child is allergic to animal dander, limiting contact with dogs, cats, and other pets can be helpful, as can keeping pets out of your toddler’s bedroom, and bathing any pets you have regularly

If the allergy attack occurs during specific months, the culprit may be an outdoor allergen like pollen.

In order to figure out exactly what’s causing the allergy, your child’s pediatrician will refer you to an allergist, who will perform a skin test on your child. The test will determine which specific substance your child is allergic to. If necessary, your child’s doctor will prescribe a medication, like an antihistamine, in order to prevent an attack or treat the symptoms.

If you think your toddler might be dealing with an airborne allergy, checking in with their pediatrician will help you get them the treatment they need for the best possible outcome.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics. “Allergy Tips.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, August 30 2016. Retrieved June 30 2017. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/pages/allergy-tips.aspx.
  • R.A. Nathan. Allergy & Asthma Proceedings. 28(1): 3-9. January-February 2007. Retrieved June 30 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17390749.
  • “Allergic Rhinitis.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, March 14 2016. Retrieved June 30 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000813.htm.
  • “Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?” Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, October 2015. Retrieved June 30 2017. http://www.aafa.org/page/pet-dog-cat-allergies.aspx. 

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