Yellow Eyes: Causes & Treatments
The whites of your eyes are called the sclera. Sometimes, they turn yellow. The medical term for yellow eyes is a condition called jaundice. Yellow eyes are often accompanied by yellowing of the skin. It occurs when there is too much bilirubin in the body. The chemical called bilirubin is an orange-yellow substance that forms when the liver breaks down red blood cells. Bilirubin is secreted into bile, a fluid made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder to help with the digestion of fats in the digestive tract.
Please continue reading to learn more about the possible causes of yellow eyes and treatment for this condition.
Do yellow eyes mean liver problems?
Yellow eyes are often a sign of liver problems. However, yellow eyes (jaundice) can also occur in medical conditions involving other organs in the body.
What causes the yellowing of your eyes?
Viral hepatitis (hepatitis A and chronic hepatitis B and C) and the Epstein-Barr virus can damage the liver. The liver infection can prevent it from moving bilirubin into the bile ducts, thus leading to jaundice (yellow eyes).
Alcoholic liver disease
Drinking excessive alcohol can cause liver damage and replace healthy tissue with scar tissue, thus preventing the organ from doing its job.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
This is a condition in which there is a buildup of fat in the liver. It is common in people who are obese or overweight. Mild nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is not harmful, but in advanced stages, it can lead to cirrhosis and severe symptoms such as yellowing of your eyes and skin, itching, and swelling in the legs.
In people with autoimmune hepatitis, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy liver cells, causing symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, swelling in the abdomen and lower legs, and increased bilirubin which causes itchy skin and turns your eyes yellow.
Certain medications can be the underlying cause of yellow eyes because of serious liver damage and organ failure. For example, high-dose acetaminophen is toxic to the liver. Other drugs that can cause jaundice (yellow eyes) include birth control pills, penicillin antibiotics, estrogen, anabolic steroids, antiviral medications, and psychiatric medications like chlorpromazine (Thorazine).
Gallstones are hard, pebble-like deposits of bile that form in the gallbladder and can block a bile duct, causing a buildup of bilirubin and jaundice.
Yellow eyes (jaundice) can be a sign of certain cancers such as liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, and pancreatic cancer if the tumor blocks the bile duct.
A hematoma is a collection of clotted blood that forms in the body’s tissues due to a broken blood vessel. While it heals, it can lead to high bilirubin levels, making the eyes turn yellow.
This is a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed at a faster-than-normal rate. Bilirubin is formed when the body breaks red blood cells. Hemolytic anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, can therefore lead to increased bilirubin levels, which can cause yellow eyes and skin.
Malaria is an infectious disease that spreads through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Jaundice (yellow eyes) can occur in malaria patients due to the breakdown of red blood cells in the blood vessels and a buildup of bilirubin.
If a person receives incompatible red blood cells (wrong blood type) during a blood transfusion, it can trigger the immune system to destroy the wrong type of blood, causing the release of bilirubin, which can make your eyes turn yellow.
Rare blood disorders and genetic conditions
In certain rare conditions such as hereditary spherocytosis, there is a shortage of red blood cells, enlargement of your spleen, and yellowing of your eyes.
Yellow eyes in infants (neonatal jaundice) can occur in preterm babies because the liver is not mature enough to filter bilirubin from the blood. It can also occur in some breastfed babies due to low-calorie intake and dehydration. Healthcare providers check babies for jaundice before sending them home from the hospital. If left untreated, in severe cases, it can lead to serious complications such as brain damage.
Can dehydration cause yellow eyes?
Dehydration is a known cause of yellow eyes (jaundice) in newborn babies. In adults, people with a genetic disorder of the liver called Gilbert syndrome can develop jaundice with triggers like dehydration, exertion, stress, or alcohol use.
Can yellow eyes go away?
Yellow eyes can be a sign of a serious underlying health condition. Yellowing of your eyes is unlikely to go away without treatment, and you should not try to reduce symptoms with home remedies. It’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated early before you develop serious complications.
The treatment for yellow eyes (jaundice) depends on the underlying condition. For example, if you have alcohol use disorder and alcoholic liver disease, your doctor may prescribe medications such as naltrexone or acamprosate to help you reduce alcohol abuse or stop drinking. On the other hand, if you have autoimmune diseases, your doctor may prescribe steroids and other immunosuppressant drugs to control your symptoms.
Do not delay making an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have yellow eyes (jaundice) accompanied by the following symptoms: fever, severe abdominal pain, easy bruising or bleeding, blood in vomit, or blood in the stool (black, tarry stools).