Normally the whites of eyes or sclera are white in color. One can get yellow sclera, a condition also called scleral icterus, which is caused by an elevation of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is made in the liver and is yellow in color. If a person suffers from liver disease, the liver can no longer process the breakdown of red blood cells and bilirubin, its natural metabolic product, no longer enters the bile and instead builds up in the blood and tissues, including the sclera of the eyes. One of the first signs of liver dysfunction is when the whites of eyes are yellow.
Causes of Whites of Eyes Yellow
A common time for the whites of the eyes to be yellow is in newborn babies. This is a medical condition known as newborn jaundice. Most newborn jaundice resolves itself spontaneously once the liver enzymes which process old red blood cells finally kick in a few days after birth.
If the condition lasts for a long period of time or is particularly yellow, this could mean an extremely high level of unconjugated bilirubin in the baby’s system. High levels of bilirubin can lead to damage to the infant’s brain. For this reason, it is important to notify your baby’s doctor immediately if you notice yellowing of the eyes or skin in your baby so that his/her bilirubin levels can be evaluated and monitored to treat the condition in time to reduce the risk of complications.
In Children and Adults
Common causes of scleral icterus and skin jaundice in children and adults include:
- Conditions of the liver. Any liver condition, such as congenital liver abnormalities or damage to the liver cells can result in the whites of eyes yellow. Tests can be done to see what cause the liver dysfunction and sometimes a liver biopsy is necessary to see what is going on inside the cells.
- Blockage of bile ducts. The liver contains an intricate system of ducts that eventually drain bilirubin into the gallbladder. In conditions such as gallstones and pancreatitis, the bile ducts can be obstructed, leading to a backup of bilirubin and a yellowish coloring of the skin and eyes of the affected individual.
- Cirrhosis of the liver. People who drink too much alcohol can damage their liver so that it no longer keeps up with the destruction of red blood cells and bilirubin backs up, leading to jaundice and scleral icterus.
- Hepatitis. Hepatitis can be caused by toxins but the most common cause is a virus that infects the liver, resulting in its dysfunction. Bilirubin backs up and the individual will suffer from jaundice and scleral icterus until the infection of the liver is resolved. This can take several weeks.
- Hemolytic anemia. This is a blood disorder in which high numbers of red blood cells are destroyed by the body. This results in an increase in the level of bilirubin in the bloodstream as evidenced by yellowing of the skin and sclera.
- Yellow fever. This is a mosquito-borne viral illness that is common in developing countries. A person with yellow fever will have elevated bilirubin levels, resulting in jaundice and scleral icterus.
- Alcohol abuse. Alcohol directly affects the ability of the liver cells to process bilirubin. Bilirubin can accumulate to excessive levels so that jaundice will occur, accompanied by the whites of eyes yellow as well. Usually, the problem goes away when the individual stops drinking.
Other Possible Causes of Whites of Eyes Yellow
Weil’s disease is an infection by the bacterium leading to leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a relatively rare health condition that can cause failure of major organs, including the liver, which results in fever, nausea, jaundice, and headache.
Apart from the above-mentioned causes, sometimes the whites of eyes yellow could be easily resolved and warrants no grave concern. Below is a real-life case example of whites of eyes being yellow:
Jason A is a young man who noticed a yellowing of his sclera. A doctor told him there was nothing to worry about and prescribed some eye drops for him, which did not work. He did some research on conditions that cause the whites of the eyes yellow in color and felt that his condition was the result of some kind of systemic disease. He wondered about a thyroid condition causing his eye yellowing, although this would be an unusual complication of thyroid disease.
When to See a Doctor for Whites of Eyes Yellow
If your child has yellow tint to the eyes without any other symptoms, you should take him/her to a doctor. Prompt evaluation and diagnosis of the cause could lower the risk of complications.
For adults, immediate medical care is required if you have severe symptoms associated with this condition, such as having trouble breathing, lethargy, unresponsive to calling when sleeping, or confusion.
How to Deal with Whites of Eyes Yellow
The trick to getting rid of scleral icterus is to take care of your liver. Remedies that help the liver function better exist although seeing a doctor for further evaluation should take precedence over home remedies.
- Drink plenty of clear, fresh water and other liquids. Drinking fluids will hydrate the body and enhance the elimination of bilirubin through the kidneys. The liver also functions better in a highly hydrated body.
- Eat food containing simple sugars, particularly fruits and vegetables. When you eat simple sugars, your liver cells will function better through the use of the nutrients provided by fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Get plenty of rest. Rest can allow your body’s organs to function better. This includes the functioning of the liver that will process bilirubin better, relieving you from jaundice.
- Stop drinking alcohol. Regardless of the cause of the jaundice, you need a healthy liver to get rid of it. Alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to process red blood cells and should be avoided.
- Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. Certain medicines are toxic to the liver, especially when taken in excess. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you identify which medications might be the culprit in your situation.
- Increase iron intake. Sometimes yellowing of the eyes is caused by anemia. Taking an iron supplement or eating foods high in iron, such as leafy green vegetables, beans, liver, beef, and chicken can improve your iron stores.
- Use antiviral medication if hepatitis is the cause of the whites of eyes yellow. If you have hepatitis B, for example, the disease process can be accelerated with antiviral medications so that the jaundice will resolve sooner.