Healthy eyes are bright white, and this colour remains whatever the age of the patient. However, changes to the colour of the eye whites can indicate a health problem. This could be a minor issue, such as an eye injury, or it could be due to a serious illness such as liver disease. Yellowing in the skin and eyes is often referred to as jaundice, though this is not the only reason eyes can change colour. Any changes to the eyes should be assessed by a GP and, where appropriate, an ophthalmologist or other eye specialist.
This is by far the most common reason that the eyes may appear yellow. Jaundice is not actually an eye condition, but is actually the result of a liver disorder or disease. It is caused when bilirubin – a product found when blood is broken down – is produced in excess and seeps into the blood. This turns the skin and the whites of the eyes bright yellow. Slight jaundice is common in newborns and elderly adults, but it is unusual in a healthy child or adult. If you experience yellowing of the eyes and skin, you should seek the advice of a GP or liver specialist who can perform further tests and establish if, and why, you are jaundiced.
This is a break or leak of the blood vessels in your eyes. It can be caused through direct trauma or through pressure to the eye: constipation, sneezing and vomiting are among the causes of such a haemorrhage. When the bleed is serious or significant, the eyes will appear pink or bright red due to the presence of blood. However, a very slight bleed might appear as a yellowish tint to the eye. The bleed will usually resolve on its own and the cause is usually apparent. However, an explained or severe subconjunctival haemorrhage should always be assessed by an ophthalmologist.
This is a rare condition which leads to jaundice-like symptoms. Blood cells in the body are broken down too rapidly, causing the bilirubin levels to accumulate too quickly, and leading to an excess of the chemical in the body. A doctor will need to perform a simple blood test to diagnose the condition, which can then be treated with medication.
An infection in the eyes can cause discolouration of the whites, the iris or both. If the eyes appear slightly yellow but jaundice has been ruled out, it is possible that a slight eye infection is responsible for the yellow tint. More serious infections, such as leptospirosis, can also lead to yellow eyes. Most infections can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics, so seek advice from your doctor if you suspect this is the cause of your yellow eyes.