jaundice yellow eye

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes that is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow-brown substance that results from the breakdown of old red blood cells. If this waste product is not removed from the bloodstream by the liver, a buildup of old red blood cells in the blood occurs, producing a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.  Bilirubin is the yellow color you see when a bruise is healing.

Jaundice is also called icterus and yellow skin.


Jaundice may result from various diseases or conditions that affect the liver.

Some common causes are:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis D
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Hepatitis E
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Gilbert’s syndrome
  • Dubin-Johnson syndrome
  • Rotor’s syndrome
  • Crigler-Najjar syndromes
  • Biliary atresia
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Malaria

Types of Jaundice

Newborn Jaundice

About 60% of all newborn babies have jaundice during the first week of life. The ordeal of birth can send many red blood cells to an early retirement, and babies’ livers are often unprepared for the load. Before Mom’s milk comes in and stooling begins in earnest, bilirubin accumulates more easily. Jaundice is even more common in premature babies.

Pathologic Jaundice

Pathologic jaundice is the term used when jaundice presents a health risk. Pathologic jaundice can occur in children or adults. It arises for many reasons, including blood incompatibilities, blood diseases, genetic syndromes, hepatitis, cirrhosis, bile duct blockage, other liver diseases, infections, or medications.

How to get Rid of Jaundice in Newborns

Mild newborn jaundice usually goes away after baby’s liver begins to mature. Feedings between 8 to 12 times a day will help babies pass bilirubin through their bodies.

Severe newborn jaundice may require phototherapy. Phototherapy is a common and very effective treatment that uses light sources to break down bilirubin in your baby’s body. In phototherapy, your baby will be placed on a special bed under a blue spectrum light while wearing only a diaper and special protective goggles.

In very severe cases of newborn jaundice, an blood transfusion may be necessary. The blood transfusion replaces the baby’s damaged blood with healthy red blood cells, increases the baby’s red blood cell count and reduces bilirubin levels.

Treatment options

Treatment will depend on the cause.

  • Jaundice caused by anemia-induced is often treated by boosting the amount of iron in the blood by either taking iron supplements or eating more iron-rich foods
  • Jaundice caused by requires antiviral or steroid medications.
  • Jaundice caused by obstruction (gallstones) is treated by surgically removing the obstruction.
  • Jaundice caused by medication involves changing to an alternative medication.


If left untreated, jaundice can worsen and affect other parts of the body. In newborns, untreated jaundice can cause kernicterus.