Dark under-eye circles can indicate
health problems more serious than a
lack of sleep
By SHELLEy ArNUSCH
Dark circles under the eyes are commonly associated with a lack
of sleep. But the truth is, sleep has very little to do with why some people
appear perpetually tired.
Dark circles are primarily the result of shadows cast by the shape of the face,
and become more pronounced as the face hollows with age. A lack of sleep
will make a person pale and wan, so the shadows appear darker, but while
a slumber of Sleeping Beauty magnitude can bring back a healthy glow and
make the shadows less noticeable, it can’t really make them disappear entirely.
Aside from the shape of the face, dark circles are due to an increase in the
amount of melanin pigment under the eyes from sun damage. People who
naturally have larger veins under the eyes will also experience a darkening
under their eyes. In either case, the issue is cosmetic. “Most people who have
dark circles under the eyes are perfectly normal and healthy,” says
Calgary dermatologist Dr. Allan Behm. “It doesn’t mean they’re tired, it
doesn’t mean they’re sick . . . It’s just the way they’re born.”
Sometimes dark under-eye circles indicate far more serious medical prob-
lems. In the case of babies, children and teens, who have yet to experience
the natural effects of aging, the darkening of the eye area can signify condi-
tions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) or allergies — particularly when
accompanied by puffiness or swelling. And sunken eyes are often a sign of
acute malnourishment — the person may be harbouring an eating disorder
such as anorexia or bulimia. In newborns, under-eye darkness can signify
the growth of hemangiomas, an abnormal buildup of blood vessels in the
skin that appear as small, benign skin tumours.
Seniors, for the most part, naturally develop dark circles as a result of the
loss of collagen in their skin due to aging, making blueish veins more visible.
But a darkening of the under-eye area accompanied by pain or discomfort is
often a sign of eye disease, such as glaucoma, or even serious internal afflictions such as kidney or liver disease, although such cases, says Behm, would
be accompanied by a host of additional symptoms.
So while dark circles are likely nothing to worry about in an otherwise-healthy adult or senior, in babies, kids and teens, they’re definitely something to keep an eye on.