What are yellow eyes?

Yellow eyes occur when the whites of the eyes (sclerae) take on a yellowish tinge. Also known as scleral icterus, yellow eyes are generally a sign of jaundice caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow-colored pigment that is produced by the breakdown of old red blood cells. Bilirubin is normally processed by the liver and released into the intestine in bile before being excreted from the body through the feces.

Yellow eyes in newborn infants

It is not unusual for newborn babies to have yellowing of the skin and eyes due to a condition called newborn jaundice. Newborn jaundice is common, and in many cases, it is not a cause for alarm and requires no treatment. However, it is important to immediately notify your infant’s health care provider if you notice yellowing of the eyes or skin in your baby so that your baby’s condition and bilirubin levels can be evaluated, monitored and treated if needed.

High or quickly rising levels of bilirubin in newborns can lead to serious or life-threatening complications, such as cerebral palsy and brain damage. Seek prompt medical care if you notice that your baby has yellowing of the eyes or skin. Early monitoring and treatment of high levels of bilirubin reduce the risk of complications.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your baby has symptoms, such as weak sucking, inability to feed, unresponsiveness, lack of wet or dirty diapers, a stiff or limp body, strange eye movements, severe jaundice, or you have trouble waking up your baby.

Yellow eyes in children and adults

In children and adults, yellow eyes, as well as jaundice of the skin, occur when bilirubin builds up because of serious diseases and conditions that cause liver damage or dysfunction, or block the bile ducts. The bile ducts transport bile to the digestive tract to be mixed with feces. Certain conditions of the gallbladder or pancreas, such as pancreatitis or gallstones, can cause obstruction of the bile ducts, which leads to jaundice and yellowing of the eyes.

Serious liver diseases include hepatitis and cirrhosis. Certain blood disorders, such as hemolytic anemia, can also cause yellow eyes because of the abnormal destruction of red blood cells and increase in bilirubin production. Yellow eyes and jaundice in children and adults are treated by diagnosing and treating the underlying cause.

Seek prompt medical care if you or your child has yellow eyes or a yellow tint to the eyes without any other symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment of the cause of yellow eyes can reduce the risk of serious complications, such as liver failure.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911)

if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms that may be associated with yellow eyes and jaundice, such as lethargy or unresponsiveness, confusion, difficulty breathing, or a change in consciousness or alertness. You should also seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have overdosed on a drug or ingested a toxic substance.


What other symptoms might occur with yellow eyes?

Yellow eyes may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Children and adults with yellow eyes due to jaundice often have other symptoms of an underlying disease. However, newborn infants with yellow eyes due to mild jaundice often do not have any other symptoms.

In children, adolescents and adults, symptoms that may appear al... Read more about yellow eyessymptoms


What causes yellow eyes?

Yellow eyes are typically due to jaundice. Normally, the body continuously replaces older red blood cells with new ones. A yellow pigment called bilirubin is left behind from this process. Bilirubin is processed by the liver and expelled from the body in a substance called bile, which also contains substances to help digestion. Bile flows through the bile duct into the small intestine to aid in... Read more about yellow eyescauses

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision

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