Yellowing of the eyes and skin are almost always symptoms of a condition that requires medical treatment.
Anyone with yellow eyes should contact a doctor as soon as possible or seek emergency medical attention. This can prevent serious complications, including organ damage.
The best way to get rid of the yellowing is to treat the underlying cause and any other conditions present.
When jaundice is caused by an infection, such as hepatitis C or malaria, a person may need to take antibiotics, antifungals, or antivirals.
When jaundice is the result of alcohol or drug use, a person may need medical assistance to help with quitting or reducing consumption.
If dietary habits are behind jaundice, a person should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and lean meats.
Jaundice can also result from organ damage, sometimes caused by:
- an injury
- a blockage
Depending on the extent of damage and the organs affected, treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or blood transfusions.
Jaundice is very common in newborns, and only around 1 in 20 infants affected will require medical treatment.
Neonatal jaundice can usually be resolved by increasing breast-feeding sessions to 8–12 times daily. The aim is to speed up digestion and bilirubin removal.
When treatment is necessary, a doctor may recommend phototherapy with fiber optic blankets.
Jaundice refers to a yellowing of the whites of the eyes or the skin. It is often the result of a medical condition that causes a yellow-pigmented compound called bilirubin to build up in the blood.
When heme, a component of red blood cells, is broken down in the spleen, liver, or bone marrow, the body releases bilirubin.
There are many causes of jaundice. The most common involve conditions that impact organs responsible for digesting and processing bilirubin, such as the:
An estimated 60 percent of newborns experience neonatal jaundice, often because their organs are not developed enough to filter bilirubin from the blood.
Neonatal jaundice usually develops within the first few days of life and resolves within a few weeks, once the baby’s liver has fully developed.
In adults, most cases of severe jaundice result from conditions that directly involve the liver or liver cells.
Causes of jaundice include:
- hepatitis A, B, and C
- cirrhosis, or liver scarring
- problems with the liver, pancreas, or gallbladder
- hemolytic anemia, in which red blood cells are broken down more often than necessary
- anemia and sickle cell anemia
- Gilbert’s syndrome
- tuberculosis medications
- liver, pancreas, or gallbladder cancer
- chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Less common causes of jaundice include:
- gallstones, which are small formations of bile or cholesterol that block or restrict flow through the bile duct
- bile duct damage or inflammation
- ulcerative colitis
- pancreatic and intestinal cancer
Yellow eyes and skin are sometimes unrelated to jaundice. A person may be consuming excessive amounts of foods or supplements rich in beta-carotene. Addison’s disease and anorexia can also cause yellowing of the eyes and skin, as can the use of some spray tanning products.
If a person has yellow eyes or suspects jaundice they should contact a doctor as soon as possible. Most conditions that cause jaundice require medical treatment.
If severe or left untreated, several underlying conditions that cause jaundice can result in complications such tissue damage and organ failure.
If the yellowing of the eyes is dark, seek emergency medical attention.
Causes of yellow eyes range from infection to genetic conditions.
While adopting healthy habits and taking supplements may reduce symptoms, jaundice usually only disappears once the underlying condition is treated.
Anyone with yellow eyes should talk to a doctor. People with dark yellow eyes should seek emergency medical attention.
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