The sclera or “whites” of your eyes are normally as white as their name would indicate. However, you can get yellow sclera, which is called scleral icterus, if you have elevated levels of bilirubin in your bloodstream.
Bilirubin itself is yellow colored and made in your liver. If you have liver disease, your liver cannot process the breakdown of bilirubin and red blood cells any longer. Rather than entering the bile ducts, it builds up in the tissues and blood, and this includes the sclera of your eyes. Liver dysfunction is one suspect when the whites of your eyes are yellow.
Other Causes of Whites of Eyes Becoming Yellow
It is common for newborn babies to have yellow coloring in the whites of their eyes. Newborn jaundice, as it is called, usually resolves itself within several days after birth, when the baby’s liver enzymes, responsible for processing old red blood cells, begin functioning properly.
If this condition lasts for longer, or is very yellow, this may indicate high levels of unconjugated bilirubin within the baby’s system. These levels could lead to brain damage if untreated, so be sure to notify your infant’s physician right away if you notice any extensive yellowing in the skin or eyes of your baby. The physician can evaluate, treat and monitor the levels of bilirubin, to lessen the complication risk.
Common Causes of Yellow Eye Whites in Children & Adults
Outside of the issues with whites of eyes being yellow in newborns, there are other causes of skin jaundice and yellowing of the eyes in adults and children. They include:
Bile Duct Blockage
The human liver has an intricate ductwork system that processes bilirubin and drains it into the gallbladder. If someone has pancreatitis, gallstones or similar health problems, these can obstruct the bile ducts, causing the bilirubin to back up. This causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow.
Damage to cells of the liver, or congenital liver abnormalities, may result in the yellowing of eye whites. Physicians will perform specific tests to determine the cause of the dysfunction. In other cases, a liver biopsy may be done to see what is happening within the cells.
Cirrhosis of the Liver
If someone drinks too much alcohol, they may damage the liver, so it cannot keep up with the destruction of red blood cells any longer. This causes a back-up of bilirubin, which leads to scleral icterus and jaundice.
This blood disorder results when the body destroys many of its red blood cells. This means that the bilirubin levels will increase, and manifest in yellowing of the eye whites and skin.
When the liver is infected with a virus, or hepatitis is otherwise brought on by toxins, the liver will not be able to function properly. The bilirubin will back up and the person affected will experience the whites of their eyes turning yellow, in addition to jaundice. Once the liver infection has been resolved, which can take several weeks, the yellowing clears up.
Alcohol has a direct impact on the liver’s ability to process the body’s bilirubin. This can cause an accumulation of bilirubin to such high levels that it will cause jaundice, and yellow sclera of the eyes. This problem generally clears up if the person is able to stop drinking.
Commonly seen in underdeveloped countries, yellow fever is a viral illness spread by mosquitoes. People who have yellow fever will show elevated levels of bilirubin, which results in scleral icterus and jaundice.
Other Causes of Whites of Eyes Yellowing
This is a bacterial infection that leads to leptospirosis, an uncommon condition that causes organ failure. It affects the liver, among other organs, and leads to headache, jaundice, nausea and high fever.
In addition to the causes mentioned above, the whites of eyes may yellow without serious illness, and these situations are usually easier to resolve. In some of these cases, the body regulates its bilirubin without intervention, and the yellowing of the whites of the eyes disappears.
When should you see a Doctor for Yellowing of the Whites of Eyes?
If your child’s eye whites have a yellow appearance, even if they show no other symptoms, take him to see his physician. If promptly evaluated and treated, the possible causes of the yellowing may lower the complication risk.
In adults, you only generally require immediate medical care if the yellowing of the eye whites is accompanied by more severe symptoms, like confusion, unresponsiveness when sleeping, lethargy or trouble breathing.
Dealing with Whites of Eyes Yellow
The way to get rid of yellowing of eye whites is mainly by taking care to keep your liver healthy. Remedies exist that will assist your liver to function properly, but it’s a good idea to see a physician to have your condition evaluated, and have the problem cleared up more quickly.
In addition to keeping in touch with your doctor, there are several ways you can avoid times when the whites of your eyes become yellow.
Get Lots of Rest
Rest allows the organs of the body to function more properly. This includes liver functioning. If your liver works the way it should, it will better process bilirubin, which will alleviate the problem of jaundice.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking fluids like water and other healthy drinks will keep your body well-hydrated, and enhance the kidneys’ ability to eliminate bilirubin. Proper hydration also helps the liver to function better.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
Regardless of why you may have jaundice, your liver needs to be healthy in order to rid your body of the problem. Alcohol hampers the ability of the liver to process red blood cells.
Eat Healthy Foods
Eating foods that contain simple sugars, like vegetables and fruits, helps your liver to function better. The liver derives benefits from nutrients found in fresh vegetables and fruits.
Use necessary Medications
If your whites of eyes are yellow due to hepatitis, use the proper antiviral medications prescribed by your physician.
Increase your Intake of Iron
Sometimes, anemia causes yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Eating foods that are iron rich, like chicken, beef, liver, beans and leafy green veggies, improves your iron levels. If you don’t get enough iron in your diet, take a supplement.
Keep your Physician in the Loop
Speak with your physician about all the medications you take, including natural or homeopathic remedies. Some medicines are liver-toxic. Your physician can check your medications, to ensure that you’re not taking anything that could compromise the proper functioning of your liver.