Causes and conditions of yellow eyes.


Some people say that you may get jaundice when your eyes turn yellow. However, this term actually refers to the accumulation of bilirubin in the eyes and the rest of the body. Bilirubin is a yellow substance that forms when old blood cells are replaced.

Instead, the correct term for yellow eyes is jaundice . Jaundice only refers to the yellowish eyes, not the entire body. If only the eyes appear yellow, it could be due to a simple and harmless cause.

But sometimes, yellowish eyes can be a sign of something more serious. This article explores six reasons why your eyes may appear yellow.

Get Medical Information / Cindy Chang

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

The white part of your eye, known as the sclera, is covered with a thin, transparent tissue called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva contains many tiny blood vessels that can easily burst or break .

When they break, the blood flows and fills the space between the conjunctiva and the sclera. If the leak is small, part of your eye may look slightly discolored, sometimes yellow, or slightly red. But if the leak is large enough, the entire white of the eye may appear bright red.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage it often appears as a bright red pool of blood in the eye. This usually does not cause pain or vision changes, but there may be mild itching in the eyes. Sometimes when blinking, there is a scratching sensation.

When this blood is broken down and removed from the eye, it can turn yellow.


Subconjunctival hemorrhage or eye bleeding can be caused by:

  • Injury
  • Cough
  • Violent sneezing
  • Threw up
  • Weightlifting
  • Strong rubbing of the eye
  • Constipation
  • Various eye infections

Occasionally, bleeding from the eye can be a sign of diabetes, hypertension, bleeding or blood disorders, leukemia, or sickle cell anemia . The ophthalmologist must examine the eye to determine the cause and rule out other possible health problems.

Watch out

Artificial tears sometimes help with scratching sensations. Also, in most cases, subconjunctival hemorrhages go away on their own.

Any blood you see in your eye will be slowly absorbed into your body. Most bleeds of this type go away on their own in about seven days, while larger bleeds from the eye can take up to two to three weeks.

The redness may turn yellow-orange, then pink, and then turn white. The change in the color of the blood in the eye is not permanent.

If only one eye turns yellow, it could be due to a ruptured blood vessel, which may or may not indicate other health problems. It could be a simple bleeding from the eye. But if both eyes are yellow, you should see a doctor. In either case, the sooner your healthcare provider can help you determine the cause, the sooner you will receive treatment.


Hyperbilirubinemia means elevated levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is formed when the liver breaks down old red blood cells.

The liver removes bilirubin, including it in the bile , which is secreted by the gallbladder into the small intestine to break down fats during digestion. Bilirubin leaves the body through stool (feces) and gives stool its normal brown color.

However, when an abnormally large number of red blood cells are broken down, bilirubin can build up quickly in the body. Liver disease or blocked bile can also cause increased bilirubin levels.

Too much bilirubin is one of the causes of jaundice. Health professionals often order several types of liver function tests to check for liver problems. Treatment will depend on the cause, and once the cause is corrected, the yellowing of the eyes and skin usually disappears.


Leptospirosis is an infection caused by the bacteria Leptospira . Yellowing of the eyes is common in people with this infection. The infection is more common in hot climates and in areas exposed to water contaminated with animal urine.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include cough, sore throat, headache, muscle and abdominal pain, and swollen lymph nodes. People with an infection also have an enlarged spleen or liver. Antibiotics usually treat the infection successfully.


Alcoholism is a chronic condition that causes people to abuse alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver over time. People who abuse alcohol have a higher risk of developing alcoholic liver disease.

Liver diseases, including hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), can cause jaundice, leading to yellowing of the eyes. Treatment for alcohol-related liver disease includes avoiding alcohol.


Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that produces enzymes necessary for digestion. This condition causes abdominal pain and can damage the pancreas over time. Pancreatitis can also cause mild jaundice of the eyes and skin.

Treatment may mean hospitalization with specialized care.

Hemolytic anemia

Hemolytic anemia is a blood disorder that develops when the body breaks down red blood cells too quickly, resulting in a shortage of them. This is called anemia. The whites of the eyes may appear yellow because bilirubin levels rise when red blood cells break down too quickly.

For the treatment of hemolytic anemia, it is necessary to find out why the red blood cells are destroyed.


Yellow eyes are a sign that something is wrong and are hard to miss. The yellow color can come from a harmless broken blood vessel in the eye or other problems, such as liver disease or a bacterial infection.

Any yellowing of the eyes is reason to seek medical help. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the cause so that you can receive proper treatment.

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