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What Are Allergic Shiners?

Overview

Allergic shiners are dark circles under the eyes caused by congestion of the nose and sinuses. They’re usually described as dark, shadowy pigments that resemble bruises. There are many possible causes of dark circles under your eyes, but allergic shiners got their name because allergies are best known for causing them. Allergic shiners are also called allergic facies and periorbital hyperpigmentation.

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of allergic shiners?

The symptoms of allergic shiners include:

  • round, shadowy pigmentation of the skin underneath the eyes
  • blue- or purple-colored tint under the eyes, like a bruise

If the dark circles are caused by allergies, you’ll likely have other allergy symptoms. Other symptoms of allergies include:

  • watery, red, itchy eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • itchy throat or roof of the mouth
  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • sinus pressure
  • runny nose

Symptoms of allergic shiners in people with outdoor or indoor allergies are typically worse at particular times of the year. When your allergies are at their worst depends on what you are allergic to:

Allergen Time of year
tree pollen early spring
grass pollen late spring and summer
ragweed pollen fall
indoor allergies (dust mites, cockroaches, mold, fungus, or pet dander) can occur year-round, but may be worse in winter when houses are closed up
 

It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a cold or sinus infection and allergies. The biggest difference is that a cold will likely also cause a low-grade fever and body aches. If your dark circles and other symptoms persist, your doctor may refer you to an allergist for more specific allergy testing.

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Causes and risk factors

What causes allergic shiners?

Allergic shiners are caused by nasal congestion, another term for a stuffy nose. Nasal congestion happens when the tissues and blood vessels in the nose become swollen with excess fluid. A common cause of nasal congestion is allergic rhinitis, or allergies. This is often the case in children and young adults.

In an allergy, your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance like pollen or dust mites as something harmful. This substance is known as an allergen. Your immune system produces antibodies to defend your body from the allergen. The antibodies signal your blood vessels to widen and for your body to make histamine. This histamine reaction leads to allergy symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose.

Allergic shiners occur when congestion in your sinuses leads to congestion in the small veins under your eyes. The blood pools under your eyes and these swollen veins dilate and darken, creating dark circles and puffiness. Any type of nasal allergy can lead to allergic shiners, including:

  • an allergy to certain foods
  • indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander, cockroaches, or mold
  • outdoor allergens, such as tree, grass, ragweed pollen, also known as seasonal allergies or hay fever
  • cigarette smoke, pollution, perfumes, or other irritants that can make allergy symptoms worse

People whose allergies affect their eyes are at a higher risk for allergic shiners. Allergies that affect your eyes are known as allergic conjunctivitis. In allergic conjunctivitis, your eyes become itchy, red, and puffy. You may rub your eyes frequently, making your allergic shiners worse.

While allergic shiners are most often associated with allergies, other causes of nasal congestion can also lead to dark circles under the eyes. These include:

  • nasal congestion due to a sinus infection
  • cold
  • flu

Other conditions can lead to the appearance of dark circles under the eyes too:

If you have dark circles under your eyes, you will need to work with your doctor to assess your symptoms so they can make an accurate diagnosis.

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When to see a doctor

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day activities
  • you have a high fever
  • your nasal discharge is green and accompanied by sinus pain
  • over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications aren’t helping
  • you have another condition, like asthma, that is making your symptoms worse
  • your allergic shiners occur year-round
  • the allergy medications you’re taking are causing difficult side effects
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Treatments and home remedies

Treating allergic shiners

The most effective way to treat allergies is to avoid the allergen, but that’s not always possible. There are many OTC treatments available to treat seasonal allergies, including:

A prescription drug called montelukast (Singulair) is also effective at blocking the inflammation caused by allergies. Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, consists of a series of injections with the allergy-causing proteins. Over time, your body builds up tolerance to the allergen. Eventually, you will no longer have symptoms.

You can also try the following lifestyle changes and practical solutions to help reduce your allergy symptoms:

  • shut your windows and use the air conditioner during your allergy season
  • use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter
  • use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and help soothe irritated tissues and swollen blood vessels in the nose
  • use allergy-proof covers for your mattress, blankets, and pillows
  • clean up water damage that can lead to mold
  • clean your house of dust and pet dander
  • wash your hands after petting an animal
  • wear sunglasses outside to keep pollen out of your eyes
  • place traps to get rid of cockroaches in your house
  • check your local weather forecast for a pollen count, and stay indoors when they are highest
  • use a nasal saline mist twice a day to remove pollen from the nose and clear excess mucous
  • rinse your nose with a neti pot (a container designed to flush out your nasal passages)
  • cook or season your foot with turmeric, which has been shown to suppress allergic reactions
  • consume local honey, which may help with seasonal allergies
  • stay hydrated
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