What causes yellowing of the skin and eyes and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, also known as jaundice, can be a cause for concern. It is often a sign of an underlying health condition, particularly liver disease or hepatitis. Understanding the causes of yellowing skin and eyes, as well as the available treatments, is crucial for maintaining good health. In this article, we will explore the various factors that contribute to this condition and provide valuable insights on what to do if you experience yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Understanding Jaundice

Jaundice occurs when there is an excess of bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced during the breakdown of red blood cells. Normally, the liver processes bilirubin and excretes it through bile, a digestive fluid. However, when the liver is unable to function properly, bilirubin builds up in the body, leading to yellow skin and eyes.

Causes of Yellow Skin and Eyes

Liver Disease

Liver disease is one of the primary causes of yellowing skin and eyes. Conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer can impair the liver’s ability to process bilirubin effectively. As a result, bilirubin accumulates in the body, leading to jaundice.


Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, can be caused by viral infections (hepatitis A, B, or C), alcohol abuse, or certain medications. When the liver becomes inflamed, it may not function properly, resulting in jaundice.

Diagnosing Yellowing Skin and Eyes

If you notice yellowing of your skin or eyes, it is essential to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and may order blood tests to measure your bilirubin levels. Additionally, they may conduct further tests, such as liver function tests or imaging studies, to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Treatment for Yellowing Skin and Eyes

The treatment for yellowing skin and eyes depends on the underlying cause. If liver disease or hepatitis is diagnosed, your doctor will develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific condition. Here are some common treatment options:


In cases of viral hepatitis, antiviral medications may be prescribed to help fight the infection and reduce liver inflammation. Medications to manage symptoms, such as itching or fatigue, may also be recommended.

Lifestyle Changes

If alcohol abuse is contributing to liver disease, quitting alcohol is crucial for preventing further damage to the liver. Your doctor may also advise you to make dietary changes, such as reducing salt intake and avoiding fatty foods.

Medical Procedures

In severe cases of liver disease, a liver transplant may be necessary. This involves replacing the damaged liver with a healthy one from a donor.

Preventing Yellowing Skin and Eyes

While not all causes of yellowing skin and eyes can be prevented, there are steps you can take to maintain a healthy liver and reduce your risk:

  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
  • Practice safe sex to prevent hepatitis infection
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
  • Follow proper hygiene practices to prevent the spread of hepatitis
  • Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet


Yellowing of the skin and eyes, or jaundice, is a symptom that should not be ignored. It is often a sign of an underlying liver condition, such as liver disease or hepatitis. Seeking medical attention and receiving a proper diagnosis is crucial for determining the cause and receiving appropriate treatment. By understanding the causes and taking preventive measures, you can maintain a healthy liver and reduce the risk of yellowing skin and eyes. Remember, early detection and intervention are key to managing and treating this condition effectively.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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