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What Is the Meaning of Red Eyes & Dark Circles Under the Eyes in Children?

By Kimberly Rienecke ; Updated July 18, 2017

Red eyes and dark circles under the eyes are symptoms of a condition known as allergic conjunctivitis. According to the Merck Manual, about 20 percent of individuals suffer from this condition. Treatment is with avoidance of precipitating allergens, over the counter or prescription medications and allergy shots. See your child’s physician if symptoms persist despite over the counter treatment.

Causes

Allergic conjunctivitis is usually caused by airborne allergens. The most common triggers include pollen, pet dander, mold, dust mites, perfume and cigarette smoke, notes the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Types

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis occurs during certain seasons, such as the spring or summer, and is usually caused by pollen. Perennial allergic conjunctivitis can occur at any time of the year and is typically caused by pet dander, dust mites and feathers. Vernal allergic conjunctivitis is the most serious type of allergic conjunctivitis, notes the Merck Manual, and usually affects males between the ages of five and 20 with a history of asthma, seasonal allergies or eczema. It commonly occurs in the spring and resolves by the fall or winter.

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Symptoms

Your child may complain of red, itchy, burning, painful, watery or swollen eyes. Dark circles may form under her eyes, which are referred to as “allergic shiners.” Vernal allergic conjunctivitis can cause painful ulcerations to develop on the cornea, which can lead to vision loss. Allergic conjunctivitis may present with or without allergic rhinitis, which manifests as a runny, itchy, stuffy nose and sneezing.

Risk Factors

Children with a family history of allergies have a predilection to developing allergies, however any child is susceptible.

Treatment

The best treatment is prevention. Try to avoid known allergens that cause your child’s symptoms. Over the counter medications such as oral antihistamines and eye drops may be used to help relieve symptoms. Decongestant eye drops work by constricting blood vessels in the eye to take away redness and reduce swelling. Combination decongestant and antihistamine eye drops are also available to relieve itchy eyes. These drops are safe to use in children older than three, but should not be used longer than two or three days as it can cause an increase in redness and swelling. Artificial tears may be used to soothe irritated, dry eyes and are safe in children of any age.

When to See Your Doctor

See your child’s physician if these conservative measures do not help. He may perform skin allergy testing, as well as prescribe stronger medications or allergy shots.

Prevention

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends these tips for prevention: do not allow your child to go outside when mold and pollen levels are high; use the air conditioner in your house and car; put sunglasses on your child when he goes outside to keep allergens out of the eyes; make sure your child does not rub his eyes; cover your child’s bed and pillows with “mite covers;" wash bed sheets frequently; do not allow your pet in your child’s bedroom and try to keep it outside your home; remove carpeting or rugs to reduce the accumulation of dander and dust; clean your house regularly; and make sure that your child washes his hands after touching pets.

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