Yellowing of Skin and Eyes – Causes and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns and Adults

Yellowing of Skin and Eyes – Causes and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns and Adults

Jaundice is a term that is known to every one of us. It is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide every year. So, it becomes important on our part to learn each and every aspect of it to prevent it from happening.


In medical terminology, jaundice is used to describe a condition in which the skin and eyes becomes yellow. Jaundice is itself not a disorder, but a symptom of some other underlying condition. Jaundice occurs when too much of bilirubin build-up in the blood results in yellowing of the skin, mucus and white part of the eyes.

Bilirubin is a reddish yellow pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver. This bilirubin is usually expelled through the liver and then out of the body in stool. If someone is suffering from jaundice it means he or she is having some underlying condition which is interfering with the functioning of the red blood cells, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, etc.

What causes jaundice?

Normally, old or dead red blood cells enter the liver and then broken down. Jaundice happens when the liver is unable to metabolize bilirubin (yellow pigment) normally. This can be due to damage to the liver by some underlying condition. When bilirubin is unable to process bilirubin, it can’t get out of the body normally. This causes yellowish eyes and skin.

Jaundice in adults can occur due to several conditions that affect normal metabolism and excretion of bilirubin. These include:

Jaundice in preemies and healthy newborns

Jaundice also frequently occurs in newborns and especially in premature babies. This is because the liver of the infants is not fully developed and the red blood cells rapidly break down before eventually coming to normal. In most of the newborns, jaundice is perfectly normal, however, some cases might indicate a serious problem that requires immediate medical attention.

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Causes of jaundice in newborns

Most common causes of jaundice in newborn include blood type incompatibility, infection, abnormality in blood and babies who are not getting enough breast milk.

Symptoms of jaundice in newborns

If bilirubin levels become alarmingly high, it can also cause brain damage, a condition known as kernicterus. The signs and symptoms include:

  • High-pitch cry
  • Yellowing of the skin that gets worse
  • Unusual eye movements
  • High fever over 100 degree Fahrenheit
  • Difficulty feeding and sleeping

Signs and symptoms of jaundice in adults

The classic symptom of jaundice is yellowing of the skin and eyes. In more serious cases, the whites of the eyes may turn orange or brown. Other symptoms include:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Pale stool

If there is only yellow skin symptom, then it might be due to excess of beta-carotene in the body. Beta-carotene is kind of antioxidant present in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins. So, typically people with jaundice will have both yellow colored eyes and yellow colored skin.

Diagnosis of jaundice

The first step of the doctor towards diagnosing jaundice is to conduct blood test. This is the only way to calculate the amount of bilirubin present in the body. The blood test can also figure out possible indicators such as hepatitis. Other tests may include:

  • Complete blood count to check the presence of hemolytic anemia.
  • Liver function tests that evaluate the amount of certain enzymes and proteins which are produced by the liver, in normal and abnormal states.
  • Imaging test including abdominal ultrasounds or CT scans.
  • Liver biopsy in which a small liver tissue is extracted for lab examination.

In newborns, jaundice can be easily diagnosed by taking a sample blood via pricking the toe. Based on the results, the pediatrician recommends the treatment.

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Treatment of jaundice

As mentioned, jaundice is not a disease in itself, so the treatment will depend on the underlying condition. Once the treatment begins, the yellow eyes and skin will start turning normal. As per American Liver Foundation, most cases of the jaundice in infants resolves within a week or two.

  • Typically, moderate level of jaundice is treated in hospital with phototherapy. The child is placed under special blue lights that help break down bilirubin.
  • In case of drugs causing jaundice, they have to be discontinued or changed.
  • Antibiotics might be recommended if the cause of jaundice is an infection.
  • People with anemia from hemolysis might require blood transfusion.
  • People with gallstones might require surgery.
  • Patients with liver cirrhosis might require a liver transplant

Jaundice diet

Home remedies would include taking specific diet for liver health that eventually helps you heal quickly. Your doctor would recommend following things:

  • Drinking at least 8 glasses of water every day will flush out toxins.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and powerful antioxidants which can limit liver damage. Some of them include grapefruit, grapes, papayas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic.
  • Coffee and herbal tea contains high level of antioxidants.
  • Whole grains and nuts have liver-friendly nutrients and fiber. These include brown rice, almonds, and oatmeal.

Foods to avoid in jaundice

Certain food can cause damage to liver. The affected person should cut back on these foods as much as possible.

  • Alcohol
  • Saturated fats such as found in meat
  • Refined sugar
  • Salt
  • Processed or junk foods


Jaundice usually goes away when the underlying condition is treated. Mild cases such as in newborns clear away without any treatment while other cases may indicate a serious illness. Talk to your doctor and know the underlying cause. Following appropriate advice along with medication and a healthy well-balanced diet are ways to quick recovery.


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6. Abundance of fructose not good for the liver, heart(2011, September). Harvard medical school read more
7. Alferink LJM, et al.(2017, August). Coffee and herbal tea consumption is associated with lower liver stiffness in the general population: The Rotterdam study 
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