Understanding Yellow Eyes: Common Causes

Yellow eyes, a condition that can be both alarming and intriguing, is often a symptom of underlying health issues. This peculiar coloration is typically associated with the malfunctioning of the liver, manifested in the form of jaundice. The condition is characterized by the yellowing of the whites of the eyes, known as the sclera, and often, the skin. This article delves into the causes of yellow eyes, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of this symptom.

The Role of Bilirubin

The yellowing of the eyes and skin is primarily due to the accumulation of bilirubin, a yellow-orange pigment. This substance is a byproduct of the catabolism or breakdown of aged red blood cells. Under normal circumstances, the liver processes bilirubin, which is then partially eliminated through urine and feces. However, when the liver malfunctions, the level of bilirubin in the blood, known as bilirubinemia, may exceed 2-2.5 mg per 100 ml, leading to the yellowing of the eyes and skin.

Common Causes of Yellow Eyes

A variety of factors can trigger the yellowing of the eyes, with the most common cause being a hereditary condition known as Gilbert's syndrome. This condition is typically asymptomatic, meaning it does not present any noticeable symptoms. However, certain aggravating factors, such as severe stress, infections, prolonged fasting, the use of specific drugs, and intense physical exertion, can cause the eyes to appear yellow.

The yellowing of the sclera can also be indicative of other liver diseases of varying severity. These include cirrhosis, liver tumors, hepatitis, biliary atresia, and fatty liver. Moreover, certain extrahepatic conditions, such as pancreatitis, pancreatic tumors, biliary obstruction, and certain blood disorders, can also cause yellow eyes.

It is crucial to seek medical attention if you notice your eyes turning yellow, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as weakness, abdominal pain, rapid weight loss, and digestive disorders. A simple blood test can help determine the cause of the yellowing.

Other Potential Causes

While liver-related issues are the most common causes of yellow eyes, other factors can contribute to this condition. For instance, excessive intake of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, can also lead to yellow eyes. Therefore, it is essential to use such substances responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.


Yellow eyes are often a symptom of an underlying health issue, most commonly related to liver function. While not always indicative of a serious condition, it is crucial to seek medical advice if you notice this symptom. Understanding the causes of yellow eyes can help ensure early detection and appropriate treatment of potential health issues.

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