The eyes usually start to turn yellow when a compound called bilirubin accumulates in the blood. This type of yellowing is often referred to as jaundice.
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:
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.
Yellow eyes are usually associated with conditions affecting the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or intestines. It is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Some lifestyle adjustments can make it easier for these organs to function, which may reduce symptoms.
The following tips may help to reduce the yellowing of eyes:
- Stay hydrated.
- Consume enough dietary fiber, which can be found in whole fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
- Eat lean protein, such as that from fish, nuts, and legumes
- Avoid processed or packaged foods.
- Avoid foods rich in saturated and trans fats.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, which can be found in sugary baked goods and candies.
- Do not consume alcohol excessively.
- Stop smoking or using tobacco products.
- Refrain from using illegal drugs or abusing prescription medications.
- Exercise regularly.
Many recommend natural remedies for jaundice and yellow eyes. However, research that supports these methods is often weak or lacking.
The following natural supplements and preparations are commonly recommended to help with liver problems:
- licorice root
- resveratrol, which is found in grapes, berries, and wine
- milk thistle
- naringenin, which is found in tomatoes and grapefruits
- vitamin E
Natural remedies for neonatal jaundice
Neonatal jaundice is very common and can often not be prevented. However, a parent or caregiver may find the following tips helpful:
- Try to initiate breast-feeding as soon as possible, ideally within the first few hours of life.
- Feed newborns frequently. Rather than following a set schedule, focus on the number and length of feedings.
- Keep babies awake during feedings by stimulating them.
- Avoid using supplements.
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.