Almost everyone has experienced it at some point…looking into the mirror and seeing unsightly dark circles under your eyes. But what causes them and what can you do about it? Using cover-up may be a nice temporary solution but it only, well, covers up the problem and it doesn’t address the underlying cause. Of course as a Naturopathic Doctor, I am trained to always ask “why” rather than just “what” to get to the root of the problem.
There can be several possible causes for dark eye circles; lack of sleep, iron deficiency and aging for example. But the single most common cause is actually nasal and sinus congestion, usually related to allergies.
Your sinuses are literally empty spaces within your facial bones lined with a mucous membrane. When someone with allergies breathes in an allergen such as tree pollen, dust or animal dander, these particles get caught in the membranes of your airways and sinuses, causing allergy symptoms. And as anyone with allergies knows, one of the main symptoms is congestion.
It is this nasal and sinus congestion that causes the veins draining these areas to become engorged and dark. So when you see dark circles under your eyes, what you are actually seeing is the colour of the blood in these congested veins under the skin, kind of like a bruise. This is why you may hear pediatricians refer to them as “allergic shiners”.
Now the big question is what can you do about it? Well, if you know what sets off our allergies, you are already one step ahead of the game. Minimizing your exposure to known allergens is important, although complete avoidance is not usually possible.
There are many natural anti-histamines that can help to reduce allergic reactions and congestion such as quercetin, vitamin C and Stinging Nettle just to name a few. There are also over the counter options that can provide symptomatic relief when you’re in a pinch.
My personal favourite is a simple morning and night saline nasal irrigation. This can be done with a Neti Pot or other device to gently flush allergens out of the mucous membranes, keeping allergic reactions to a minimum. It is not uncommon to see dark eye circles disappear completely in a week or so with this non-invasive treatment.