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Jaundice and Carotenemia

What is jaundice?

A jaundiced child has yellowish skin and sclera (the white part of the eyes). The most common cause of jaundice is hepatitis (a viral infection of the liver). While hepatitis can make a person feel very sick for a week, usually it causes no lasting complications. Patients with hepatitis always need to be checked by their healthcare provider.

What is carotenemia?

Carotenemia is a harmless condition in which the skin turns a yellowish color from eating lots of certain foods. Unlike jaundice, the whites of the eyes remain white. This happens most often between 6 and 18 months of age. Your child's skin turns a yellow-orange color because of the pigment (carotene) found in yellow vegetables (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes), as well as some fruits (such as oranges, apricots, and peaches). Carotene is also found in green vegetables (for example green beans and peas). Breastfed babies can also develop carotenemia if their mother eats a lot of foods that are high in carotene. You do not need to have your child stop eating these foods unless you want to change your child's skin tone.

After a return to a more normal diet, the carotenemia color will disappear in 3 or 4 weeks. Even without dietary change, the skin color will gradually return to normal by 2 or 3 years of age.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • Your child has vomited any blood.
  • Your child is confused or difficult to awaken.
  • Your child is acting very sick.

Call during office hours if your child develops yellowish eyes.

Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-11-08
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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