Here's What's Really Making Your Eyes Turn Yellow

It can be alarming to look in the mirror and notice that the whites of your eyes — called sclera — have a yellow pigmentation. You might also notice your skin turning a yellowish hue. Yellow eyes are often caused by jaundice, but can be due to a variety of health conditions. You will need to see your healthcare professional immediately or seek emergency medical care if you can't get in to see your doctor right away. Yellow eyes can happen to anyone at any time, and can even happen to babies. 

Your eyes turn yellow due to a build-up of a chemical known as bilirubin, a yellowish pigment created by the breakdown of red blood cells. Usually, bilirubin goes through your liver, where it turns into bile and goes through your digestive system. After passing through your system, it typically gets eliminated when you use the toilet. However, when you have an abundance of bilirubin, your liver can't keep up with filtering it out of your system fast enough. Too much bilirubin is caused by too many red blood cells dying too quickly (medically referred to as hemolysis). The bilirubin is what turns your eyes and skin yellow, causing jaundice (via WebMD and Mayo Clinic). What are the underlying medical problems that causes jaundice?

Why do people get jaundice?

Jaundice is a sign of a medical condition, and there are a lot of things that can cause it. Your treatment will depend on the root of the problem, usually, something affecting your liver, gallbladder, or pancreas (via WebMD and Mayo Clinic).

Symptoms of jaundice are yellowish of the whites of the eyes, yellowish skin, stomach pain, fever, chills, fatigue, nausea, loss in appetite, itchy skin, joint pain, swelling in legs or stomach, muscle pain, joint pain, bleeding from the nose, vomiting, weight loss, dark-colored urine, or light-colored stool. Some common causes of jaundice include hepatitis, gallstones, ingesting too much alcohol, liver infection, sickle cell anemia, hemolytic anemia, malaria, cirrhosis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, gallbladder cancer, cysts, tumors, cholecystitis — inflammation of the gallbladder, or a reaction to a blood transfusion. Some medications can also cause jaundice. They are penicillin, oral contraceptives, anabolic or estrogenic steroids, chlorpromazine, and acetaminophen toxicity (via Healthline and the Cleveland Clinic). 

If you have any of these symptoms with yellow in the whites of your eyes, seek immediate medical care. If you can't make an emergency appointment with your primary care physician, go to the emergency room.