What does it mean when the white part of the eye is yellow? The white part of the eye also known as the sclera is normally supposed to be white. However, sometimes due to certain conditions it may appear yellow or have a yellowish tinge. This may be accompanied by a yellow hue on the skin.
What Causes the White Part of Eyes to Be Yellow?
What makes white part of the eyes to be yellow? The Yellow eye white and skin is a symptom medically known as jaundice. According to medline plus and the US National Library of Medicine, a small number of red blood cells in your body die each day and are replaced by new ones. It is the work of the liver to break down oxygen carrying components (hemoglobin) into bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow colored pigment that is produced by the breakdown of old red blood cells. Once normally processed by the liver, bilirubin is released into the intestine in bile and then excreted from the body via stool (feces).
Why does the white part of the eye appear yellow?
If bilirubin is not cleared normally, it builds up in the skin and causes it to appear yellow including the eyes and mucous membranes. This may be an early indicator of a serious medical condition and it should never be ignored.
Yellow eye white and jaundice is caused by an underlying disease or condition that causes a problem with the normal liver functions of breaking down hemoglobin which leads to the buildup of bilirubin in the body. In summary, yellow eye white can occur if:
- The liver is overloaded or damaged
- Too many blood cells are dying or broken down and going to the liver
- The bilirubin from the liver is unable to move properly into the digestive tract due to obstruction of the bile ducts
Other than the inability of the liver to process bilirubin efficiently, there are a number of other health conditions and factors that may cause jaundice. They include;
- Pancreatic cancer
- Side effect from certain drugs also known as blood induced cholestasis
- Gallstones may block the bile duct
- Liver cirrhosis
- Parasitic infections such as malaria or viral infections such as Hepatitis A, B, C, D and E,
- Alcoholism and Non -alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Blood disorders such as hemolytic and sickle cell anemia
- Ischemic hepatocellular jaundice caused by lack of blood or oxygen reaching the liver
- Pregnancy induced obstruction of the bile ducts
It is important to note that, allergies will not cause yellowing of the eye whites or jaundice. It may cause other symptoms on the sclera such as reddening, itching and tearing. These are usually accompanied by sneezing, nasal congestion or respiratory symptoms.
Does smoking affect jaundice or yellowing of sclera?
The chemicals in cigarettes such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide may irritate the conjunctiva causing bloodshot eyes. However, there is no known relation between smoking and jaundice but for general health reasons, it is recommended that you should not smoke if you are recovering from jaundice. What is true is that you may have yellowing of teeth and fingers due to the direct contact with the yellow tinge of nicotine over a long period of time.
White part of eye is yellow, is it bad, meaning, is it bad in newborns
If the white part of eye is yellow, it may be due to an underlying disease, disorder or condition that causes a problem with this process, leading to a buildup of bilirubin in the body. My child’s eye is yellow; is it bad? What does it mean? While this condition can happen to both adults and children, it is fairly common in newborns.
Physiological jaundice occurs at birth. It is not a serious condition and usually disappears within two weeks after birth. A pregnant woman’s liver processes the fetus; bilirubin before birth. Once the child is born the liver starts to function on its own and may not process the bilirubin in sufficient quantities during the first few days. There are other serious but rare causes of jaundice in newborns
- Blood disorders and birth defects
- Certain inherited conditions
- Liver disease
- Blockage of the bile ducts
In newborns, fast rising and high levels of bilirubin is rare but it may cause a type of brain damage called kernicterus. Kernicterus is a precursor for conditions such as:
- Cerebral palsy
- Teething and vision problems
- Hearing loss
Although yellowing of the eyes and the skin is not often serious, it is always important to consult with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible to have your baby examined and treated if necessary.
In both adults and children yellowing of the eyes may lead to life threatening complications such as:
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Kidney failure
- Portal hypertension
- Esophageal varices
Jaundice or yellow eye white may appear suddenly or develop over a long period of time. It may or not be accompanied with symptoms such as dark colored urine, pale or clay colored stools. Other symptoms depend on the disorder that is causing the jaundice. It is important to note that, your skin may turn yellowish orange if you eat a lot of beta carotene found in carrots. Squash or melons. If your eye whites are not yellow, you may not have jaundice.
Yellow and blood shot eyes may a sign of lack of sleep or stress. It may also appear after taking recreational drugs or after heavy drinking. However, if it is accompanied by general symptoms such as fast heat bear, chest pain and shortness of breath, you should see a doctor immediately.
It is recommended that once you notice the white part of eye is yellow, you should consult with your doctor immediately. A physical exam and a bilirubin blood test will be done to determine the cause. Other tests may include:
- Liver function tests
- A complete blood count to rule out anemia
- An abdominal ultrasound
- Abdominal CT scan
- Hepatitis virus panel
- Liver biopsy
- Prothrombin time
- Cholesterol level
The treatment of yellow eye white entirely depends on the cause. In newborns, depending on the severity, treatment may require the child to be put under special lights- a procedure known as phototherapy. In adults, the use of medications may help stop or control the problem. Note that even when treatment begins, the whites of your eyes will remain yellow until the cause resolves. In severe cases as in serious medical conditions such as liver disease and blocked bile ducts, liver transplant and surgery (respectively) may have to be done to treat the symptoms.
Yellow Tinge or Small Yellow Spot on White Part of Eye
What causes small yellow spots on white part of eye? Sometimes, it is possible to have one or several yellow spots on the white part of the eye rather than a general yellow tinge on the entire sclera. This is called pinguecula- it typically occurs on the white part of the sclera that is between your eyelids due to exposure to the sun.
According to Dr Sadiqa Stelzner, an ophthalmologist, “The sun causes degeneration of the conjunctival collagen that will lead to wedged shape yellow/white changes.” She recommends UV protection by wearing good sunglasses. You should also consult a doctor for a good physical exam and tests.
Sources and References
Health line: What are yellow eyes?
Health grades: Yellow Eyes
Live strong: Yellow sclera and allergies