Jaundice is when your skin and the whites of your eyes go yellow because of a bilirubin overload in the body.
Bilirubin is a waste product that’s made when old red blood cells break down. Usually, bilirubin is processed in the liver, where it’s mixed into bile. The bile goes from the liver to the digestive tract and comes out of the body in poo. When this process changes in some way, it can create a bilirubin overload.
Bilirubin overload most often happens when the liver is inflamed because of a viral infection so it can’t process bilirubin properly. Viruses that commonly cause an inflamed liver include the Epstein Barr virus. Less common causes are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Bilirubin overload can also be caused by too many red blood cells being broken down, which can happen in a form of anaemia.
Sometimes there’s a blockage that stops bilirubin from leaving the liver. This can happen because of gallstones or inflammation of the pancreas, but it’s uncommon in children.
There are other genetic conditions that can cause jaundice. The most common is Gilbert’s syndrome, where jaundice happens during times of stress, illness, dehydration, menstruation or fasting.
The causes of jaundice in older babies and children are different from the causes of jaundice in newborn babies. This article is about jaundice in older babies and children.
If your child has jaundice, you’ll notice their skin turning yellowish. The whites of their eyes will be yellow too.
Your child might also have dark yellow wee and pale-coloured poo. Their skin might be itchy.
Does your child need to see a doctor about jaundice?
Yes. Take your child to the GP if you think they have symptoms of jaundice.
Tests for jaundice
Your GP might want to do blood tests to check bilirubin levels in your child’s blood. They might do urine tests as well.
In some situations, your GP might order other tests to check for viral infections. Your GP might also order an abdominal ultrasound.
Treatment for jaundice
The treatment of jaundice depends on how serious it is and what has caused it.
For example, if your child’s jaundice is caused by a virus, treatment will focus on improving your child’s viral symptoms and making sure your child is comfortable.