Home Health Eye Color Changes: Should You Be Worried?

Eye Color Changes: Should You Be Worried?

by Conor Adan

When last did you see your eye doctor? Eye care doesn’t get as much attention. For most people, the only time an eye doctor comes to mind is when they develop vision problems. You might not realize that those ignored concerns, mainly when it doesn’t hurt, could signify a serious underlying condition. For instance, do you know what it means when you spot yellow and brown eye?

Yellow eyes

Yellowing is commonly associated with jaundice, a condition that results from the body’s failure to clear bilirubin. Bilirubin results from hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying components) breaking down. Yellow eyes could also indicate serious issues, primarily due to certain organs failing to function properly. The common ones include the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

Brown spots

Some people are born with brown spots, and others develop the spots over time. The spots are abnormal growths. The common cause is ocular melanoma or nevi. It happens as moles or freckles form on the skin, resulting from the clumping of pigment cells. Nevi are harmless, but routine checks are necessary since they could develop into melanoma, rare cancer.

Should you be concerned?

Yellow and brown eyes might not warrant any medical treatment. A few home remedies can help clear out the discoloration. Nonetheless, you are at an advantage if you seek professional attention even when the changing color doesn’t affect your vision or come with other symptoms. While brown spots might not indicate any worrying concern, yellowing could. The sooner you get professional attention, the better the management. Here is a glance at the common concern that could lead to yellow eyes.


This is an infection caused by leptospira bacteria, common in warmer regions. Exposure to contaminated water, mostly by animal urine, increases the infection risks. Besides yellowing eyes, the infection also has symptoms including:

  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Headache
  • Stomach and muscle pain

You are also likely to develop enlarged liver or spleen. Leptospirosis is usually treated using antibiotics.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

The sclera (white part) is covered by conjunctiva, a thin and clear tissue. The tissue has many blood vessels that are susceptible to breaking/bursting under pressure, from hard sneezing/coughing, trauma, heavy lifting, constipation, vomiting, and eye infection, among other causes. When the tiny vessels break, they leak blood, filling the space between the sclera and conjunctiva. You can spot red-eye or yellow when the leak is small. When the leak is significant, the white part turns bright red. The redness can then turn to yellow-orange, pink, and back to white.

If you only spot the yellow color in one eye, it is most likely due to simple bleeding. Nonetheless, seeking immediate medical attention is necessary if both eyes turn yellow. Even when it only affects one eye, a medical check is essential. This is to establish the cause of the bleeding and put in place measures to stop it, clear the yellowing, and learn if there are other underlying concerns.

The treatment is mostly non-invasive, with artificial tears helping with the dryness, scratchiness, and/or irritation. A subconjunctival hemorrhage usually disappears on its own, typically after even days for small leaks and a few weeks (2-3) in case of larger eye bleeds.

Hemolytic anemia

This is a blood condition resulting from the body breaking down red blood cells faster than it should. The breakdown causes a lack of enough red blood cells, also known as anemia. It results in eyes appearing yellow, more so since there is an increased bilirubin level. Hemolytic anemia requires a thorough diagnosis to establish why the body is destroying the red blood cells.


Your pancreas produces enzymes necessary for digestion. When inflamed, you get a condition known as pancreatitis. This causes abdominal pain and, if left untreated, gradually develops, causing damage to the pancreas. Pancreatitis can result in mild jaundice, hence the eye and skin yellowing. Following the extent, the treatment approach may require hospitalization and specialized care. With that in mind, immediate medical attention is critical when you spot yellowing that comes with other symptoms like abdominal pain.


Alcoholism is easily overlooked, yet it is a chronic condition that impacts your overall health. Excessive alcohol consumption over time can cause significant liver damage. You’ve probably come across alcoholic-liver disease; it is not a made-up condition. You could get hepatitis (liver inflammation) or cirrhosis (liver scarring). Such damage can cause jaundice hence the eye yellowing. Alcoholic liver disease treatment includes stopping alcohol intake. If you are struggling with alcohol, there is no shame in admitting it and seeking professional help. If you can’t moderate the intake, rehab can help you quit and improve your overall health.


Hyperbilirubinemia, as the name suggests, is a condition characterized by increased bilirubin levels. Bilirubin production occurs when your liver breaks down the old red blood cells. Bilirubin is included in the bile by the liver and released by the gallbladder into the small intestines, where it is broken down during digestion. It then leaves your body through the feces, giving it the usual brown color.

Suppose you have liver disease or bile blockage. In that case, the likelihood of bilirubin levels increasing beyond the normal level is high. Excessive amounts lead to jaundice, hence the eye yellowing. The treatment approach includes checking the liver for problems. Once identified, the treatment follows the root cause, which will clear the yellowing of the eyes and skin. As highlighted earlier, this is the common cause of yellow eyes; now you know how it happens.

Including routine visits to your eye doctor can supercharge your preventative healthcare regimen. Your eyes can provide valuable information and help detect developing issues earlier, ensuring you get treatment when simple measures are still viable.

When your eye(s) turn yellow, you might discount it, especially if vision is not affected or doesn’t hurt. Other symptoms like abdominal pain might also be hard to associate with the changes in eye color directly. Nonetheless, this doesn’t take away from the need to seek medical attention whenever you spot yellow and brown eyes.

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