Healthy Living

Why Are My Eyes Yellow and What Do Yellow Eyes Indicate?

Why Are My Eyes Yellow and What Do Yellow Eyes Indicate?

Eyes speak a thousand words. This statement is not just used to describe the beauty of the eyes, but it's even true when it comes to indicating the health of the body. Our eyes can be a clear reflection of how we feel on the inside. White, clear and shiny eyes, as you would see in a baby, indicate the best health condition when the body is detoxified and free from any health issues that could be interior. Sometimes certain infections, health conditions of the body and factors like environmental pollution could snatch away the healthy look of our eyes and cause a colorization of our eyes. Such a similar colorization occurs when the eyes get become pale and form a yellowish color that is often indicative of an underlying medical condition, in most cases being jaundice.


The yellowish appearance of the eyes is often termed as jaundiced eyes or looking jaundiced. Jaundice is a term indicative of a medical condition that causes yellowing of the skin, eyes and the overall body due to an excessive build up of the bilirubin level in the blood stream. Another term used to refer to yellowing of eyes or jaundice is icterus. 

Yellow eyes in newborns

Strangely, a number of newborn babies are affected with yellow eyes when they are born. While for new parents it may seem like a cause for concern, it is normally associated with newborn jaundice which is not as alarming as it may seem. Jaundice among newborns is a common phenomenon as the liver of the infant is still developing. Very often there could be excess levels of bilirubin in their blood streams as their livers are unable to break down the chemical fast enough in their body. Apart from yellowing of the skin, the most common signs of jaundice in a newborn is a yellow tinge in their eyes. Apart from yellow eyes, these are the following signs in a newborn that can help parents identify signs of jaundice:

  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Lower levels of energy
  • Irritation
  • Temperature (could be mild or high)
  • Eating troubles

Forms of jaundice

Newborns with any of the signs mentioned above must be immediately taken to a doctor to check for signs of jaundice. In the most number of cases, this form of jaundice is considered harmless and is known to get treated on its own as the little liver in the baby’s body develops. Most common forms in which jaundice exists in a newborn baby include:

  • Physiological jaundice: A number of newborn babies have this form of jaundice primarily caused due to the immature or underdeveloped liver of the baby. The signs begin to appear when the baby is 2 to 4 days old.
  • Malnourished: Sometimes breastfeeding can also be a cause of jaundice particularly when the baby is not able to get adequate breast milk that can flush out the bilirubin from his or her body. This jaundice generally is resolved when the baby gets its required amount of breast milk in a few days after delivery.
  • Breast milk: Quite often there are certain chemicals or elements present in the mother’s milk that can lead to the baby’s intestines retaining the bilirubin rather than excreting it out of the body through stools. This jaundice generally gets sorted in a time of about 12 weeks.

Although jaundice in newborns is not quite concerning, in some cases it may lead to complications. Some causes of the more concerning forms of jaundice in newborns include:

  • Jaundice due to the incompatibility of blood: Sometimes, the blood types of the mother and the baby may seem incompatible. When this occurs, the body of the mother may harm the red blood cells of the baby in the womb itself. In such a case since the antibodies are attacking the baby’s red blood cells prior to birth itself, this form of jaundice may appear in babies as young as one day old.
  • Jaundice in premature babies: Babies born way ahead of their actual due date, or premature babies, are at high risk of acquiring jaundice as their livers are still developing or immature. Jaundice in preterm babies is likely to be more severe along with several other conditions.
  • Infections: Certain bacterial infections such as sepsis can cause severe jaundice in the case of a newborn. This condition can be fatal and serious when not treated immediately.
  • Hemorrhage: Hemorrhage is also known as internal bleeding. Hemorrhage can lead to severe jaundice. Preterm babies are at high risk of hemorrhages.

The intensity of jaundice can range from mild to moderate, however in the case of newborns even severe jaundice is a possibility. Mild jaundice may get sorted on its own and for treating the moderate form of jaundice, light therapy may be administered. Highly intense cases of jaundice may require a blood transfusion. In this form of exchange transfusion of blood, the baby receives healthy blood cells from a donor wherein the damaged red blood cells of the baby are replaced with healthy ones. Normally the first round of checkups in newborns calls for a jaundice check by the pediatrician.

Yellow eyes in adults

In many circumstances, the yellowing of eyes is caused due to jaundice. Jaundice is caused due to the inability of breaking down of bilirubin by the hemoglobin component present in the blood. This causes an excessive buildup of the bilirubin in the blood stream. The bilirubin is a chemical or an enzyme present in the body which moves from the liver to the bile ducts and is then excreted from the body through the stool. However, a malfunction in any part of the process causes the bilirubin to build up in the skin causing the yellowing of the skin and other parts of the body. The white tissue in the eyes is called sclera. The sign of healthy eyes is the whiteness of the sclera. Yellowing of this white tissue is a definite sign of an underlying medical condition.

Various factors that can cause jaundice

 There are various factors that could lead to yellowing of the eyes. Some of them being:

  • Conditions of the liver: The liver is primarily responsible for the breakdown of the red blood cells and monitoring the release of the bilirubin enzyme in the blood. Various conditions that impact the functioning of the liver could result in yellowing of the eyes. These could occur due to various factors like:
    • Excessive consumption of alcohol
    • Cancer of the liver
    • Various infections associated with the liver
    • Viruses like hepatitis causing jaundice
    • Genetic factors
    • Loss of appetite
    • Sudden loss of weight
    • Tiredness or weakness
  • Conditions of the gallbladder: The liver secretes bile which travels to the gall bladder and collects there. The gallbladder has a main function to release the bile that helps in digesting the fats we consume. It connects to the liver again through the bile ducts. Sometimes an obstruction in the bile ducts could lead to jaundice. This obstruction could be due to various causes like gall bladder stones, cysts, tumors, etc.
  • Blood abnormalities: When the red blood cells are not broken down properly to release the bilirubin, it could cause yellowing of the eyes.