You may be concerned if your usually bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed child seems to look more like a cute raccoon to you these days. You know that adults get dark circles under their eyes for many common reasons (like life), but can kids get dark under-eye circles too?
This issue is less common in kids than in adults but it can happen. Don’t worry. Kids can sometimes get dark under-eye circles from pretty common causes. Dark circles in kids are caused by a serious health condition in only very, very rare cases.
Here’s what to know about dark circles under the eyes in kids, and when to see your child’s pediatrician.
Dark circles around the eyes can appear because the delicate skin under the eyes is thin, so the purple and blue veins (blood vessels) that are just under the skin show through a little bit. The purple-blue tinge of your blood vessels is what gives under-eyes a dark or shadowy look. The skin under the eyes might look a little purple or blue.
Dark circles can show up just for a little while, or permanently. In kids it’s usually just temporary. This can happen for lots of common reasons, including:
Are dark under-eye circles common in your family? Some kids are more likely to have thinner skin or get skin pigmentation (coloring) under the eyes for hereditary reasons (their genetics).
Crying or rubbing their eyes can make this worse. Under-eye circles from pigmentation usually look like a darker skin color, rather than purple or blue.
If you have dark circles under your eyes, chances are your kids will get them also. The difference is kids may have dark circles that seem to come and go. But as they get older, the dark circles under their eyes might come to stay.
Dark under-eye circles from genetics are normally not linked to any kind of health condition.
Lack of sleep
Your busy kiddo may have just discovered comic books that they’re reading with a flashlight under the covers. Or they’re sneaking in a tablet to watch cat videos when they’re supposed to be getting some Zzz’s.
Some kids are just night owls who don’t like to go to bed on time. Whatever the reason, it’s possible too little sleep can give kids (and adults) dark under-eye circles. However, if your child’s sleep is normal or they seem well-rested this is unlikely to be the cause.
A good cry once in a while might make your child (and you) feel better, but it can cause swelling around the eyes. This may cause the appearance of dark circles under the eyes in kids.
It’s also possible that a foreign object, like dust, pet dander, or even some crumbs from their lunch is causing temporary eye irritation. When this happens, kids rub their eyes a lot. This can lead to more irritation around the eyes and more swelling.
The crying tubes in your eyes are connected to your nose. This is why you get sniffly when you’re teary-eyed. Similarly, the veins (blood vessels) in the nose are connected to the veins around the eyes. If your nose gets blocked or stuffed up, it can also block the veins around your eyes.
Dark circles can happen in kids and adults if the veins around the eyes get larger because they are blocked. Common illnesses and health conditions that cause nasal (nose) congestion can also temporarily lead to dark circles under the eyes in kids. These include:
Kids can have snoring or sleep apnea just like adults. In kids, snoring is normally caused by bigger than normal lymph nodes called adenoids. These lymph nodes are in the back of the nasal passages right above the tonsils.
If your child has large adenoids they might snore and sleep or breathe with their mouth open a lot. The large lymph nodes can also lead to a blocked nose and dark under-eye circles.
Plus, snoring can interrupt sleep; your child might not be getting enough restful sleep if they are a snorer. This issue is definitely worth a chat with your healthcare provider.
Drinking plenty of water helps to plump up skin and keep it from getting too dry. If your child is not drinking enough water, they might have dark under-eye circles, especially during an illness.
This happens because skin all over the body, especially under the eyes, appears thinner when you’re not hydrated. Your skin needs moisture from the inside and out.
Encourage your kid to drink water throughout the day to avoid dehydration, especially when they’re active or when they’re ill.
Your growing child needs to eat plenty of nutritional food as they sprout. Kids grow so fast that sometimes their diet doesn’t keep up. Plus, children can be picky eaters!
If your child doesn’t eat certain colors of food, avoids anything that resembles broccoli, or prefers milk over foods, they might not be getting all the vitamins and minerals they need.
Anemia is common in children around the world. It happens when kids aren’t getting enough iron in their diet. It can also happen if iron and other nutrients just aren’t being absorbed properly by the body. Iron is very important because it helps to move oxygen around your body.
If your child likes to jump off of things, wrestle, or tackle other kids (and you) when they’re playing, those dark under-eye circles may be caused by an injury to their face.
A bump or trauma anywhere on the head or face might cause slight bruising or puffiness under the eyes. This can look like dark under-eye circles.
Kids can have dark circles under their eyes from hurting their faces or heads, especially around the nose. A bump on the nose or a nosebleed can lead to blocked blood flow and cause swelling around the eyes. This can lead to dark circles under one or both eyes in kids.
Don’t worry. It’s perfectly normal for curious and adventurous kids to get more than a few bumps and scrapes. But if your child is young, you don’t know the cause for the injury, your child isn’t acting like themselves, or you’re concerned you should see the doctor.
A very rare cause of dark circles under the eyes in kids is cancer in the body. A rare kind of cancer or tumor that happens in children aged 5 years or younger is called neuroblastoma. It can also sometimes happen in older children.
Neuroblastoma makes up only about 6 percent of all cancers in children. It causes tumors or growths near the kidneys.
If your child has dark circles under their eyes, they might not need any treatment at all. But getting more restful sleep and drinking plenty of water may help clear up the raccoon eyes.
If your child has seasonal allergies or a cold, the dark circles will likely go away once the pollen count falls and they recover from the sniffles. Over-the-counter medication for allergies and plenty of fluids might also help.
Tell your child’s pediatrician if the dark under-eye circles don’t go away on their own. Your child may need treatment for an underlying cause that is causing dark circles under the eyes.
A checkup and blood test can find out if your child has low iron. Your pediatrician might recommend an iron-rich diet or iron supplements if needed. Children who are 4 to 8 years old need about 10 milligrams of iron a day.
Less common causes of dark under-eye circles in kids like neuroblastoma may need lots of treatment. Some kinds of neuroblastoma in kids go away without any treatment.
Let your doctor know if your kid has persistent dark circles, especially if there are other symptoms.
Anemia can cause dark under-eye circles in both kids and adults. Look for other symptoms, like:
- tiredness and fatigue
- pale skin
- cold hands
- cold feet
- fast breathing
- high heart rate
- behavior problems
- craving, eating, or sucking on things that aren’t food (like ice and dirt)
Cancer is a very, very rare cause of dark circles under the eyes. A child with neuroblastoma may also have symptoms like:
- droopy eyelids
- different pupil sizes
- weight loss
- lumps under the skin
- back pain
- bone pain
Kids don’t commonly have dark under eye circles but it can happen. Sometimes it just runs in the family. Minor health conditions like a cold or runny nose from allergies can also cause the appearance of a bluish tinge under the eyes.
You don’t have to worry about most causes of dark circles under the eyes in kids. In very rare cases, a kind of childhood cancer can cause eye symptoms. Let your doctor know if your child has dark under circles that don’t go away after a week or so, and if they also have other symptoms.