Dark Circles Under Eyes: Causes

By Freedman, Meg

What causes dark circles under the eyes?

Dark circles under the eyes can be caused by a variety of conditions, including trauma, infection, inflammation, allergies, and lifestyle factors. Dark circles under the eyes and other types of discoloration are often caused by relatively minor conditions, such as fatigue and minor allergies, but may also result from more serious conditions, such as an invasive eye infection. If your symptoms are persistent or cause you concern, contact your physician or medical professional.

Diseases, disorders and conditions that cause dark circles under the eyes

Dark circles and discoloration under the eyes can be caused by certain medical conditions including:

  • Allergies

  • Anemia

  • Dehydration

  • Malnutrition

  • Periorbital/orbital cellulitis (invasive infection of the eye, soft tissues, and structures around the eye)

Traumatic causes of dark circles under the eyes

Dark circles and discoloration under the eyes can arise from injury or trauma including:

  • Eye area injury
  • Eye surgery
  • Facial surgery, including nasal surgery and plastic surgery procedures
  • Fracture of the nose, face or orbits, which are the bones around the eyes
  • Rapid atmospheric decompression (scuba diving)
  • Severe head injury. For example, a basal skull fracture can result in “raccoon eyes,” severe swelling, and bruising around the eyes.

Lifestyle and general causes of dark circles under the eyes

Dark circles under the eyes or discoloration can occur from lifestyle, genetic or everyday causes including:

  • Aging, which causes already delicate skin under the eye to become thinner

  • Alcohol, caffeine or sodium consumption

  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills

  • Crying

  • Fatigue

  • Inherited (genetic) factors

  • Insomnia or poor quality sleep

  • Shadows created by swollen lower eyelids or deep set eyes

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Sun exposure

What are the potential complications of dark circles under the eyes?

Complications associated with dark circles under the eyes vary depending on the underlying cause. It is important to contact your health care provider when you have unexplained dark circles under the eyes, particularly when they are accompanied by other symptoms or occur after a head or facial injury. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can help reduce any potential complications including:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction) due to severe allergies

  • Daytime sleepiness and impaired ability to carry on daily activities due to insomnia

  • Neurological complications, such as coma and permanent brain damage, due to serious head trauma

  • Spread of periorbital/orbital infection resulting in meningitis, brain abscess and possibly loss of vision and brain damage

References:

  1. Allergic rhinitis. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001816/.
  2. Allergies. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001815/.
  3. Insomnia. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001808/
  4. Orbital Cellulitis. Children’s Hospital Boston. http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site1387/mainpageS1387P0.html.
INTRODUCTION

What are dark circles under the eyes?

Dark circles under the eyes, sometimes called shadows or dark rings under the eyes, are the appearance of dark skin between the lower eyelid and the top of the cheek. Dark circles under the eyes can occur in infants, children, adolescents and adults, and to men and women alike.

It is commonly assumed that dark circles under the eyes are caused by a lack of sleep, and poor quality ... Read more about dark circles under eyesintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with dark circles under the eyes?

Dark circles under the eyes and other types of discoloration under the eyes may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying condition including:

  • Anxiety, irritability, and fatigue due to poor quality sleep or insomnia
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision


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