The sclera is the outer layer of your eye. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the “white of your eye.”
It’s made up of fibrous connective tissue that covers the eyeball and surrounds the cornea. The sclera provides structure for the eyeball and helps protect it from minor trauma.
The term “anicteric sclera” means the white part of your eye is still white. There’s no yellowing, and it appears healthy.
“Icteric sclera” means the white of the eye is yellow. This is usually a sign of jaundice, which has a variety of causes.
Both sclerae and scleras are plural forms of the word sclera.
Continue reading as we compare anicteric sclera to icteric sclera and discuss the signs that indicate you should see a doctor.
When a doctor pulls your lower eyelids downward and asks you to look up, chances are they’re checking your sclera and conjunctiva. Your conjunctiva is the thin membrane lining the front of the eye and the inside of the eyelid.
In a healthy eye, the conjunctiva is clear and the sclera is white. Anicteric sclera means the white part of your eye has no yellowing and is healthy in appearance.
You’ve probably had red eyes at some point due to irritation, allergies, or lack of sleep. It’s not all that unusual.
Icteric sclera is unusual though, and it means something is wrong. Most likely it’s caused by jaundice.
Jaundice occurs when your body has too much bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow chemical produced as your body breaks down red blood cells.
The liver is responsible for processing bilirubin so it can leave the body in your stool.
If your body produces too much bilirubin, or if your liver isn’t functioning well enough to handle it, bilirubin builds up, and that’s what makes your skin and eyes look yellow.
Other symptoms of jaundice may include:
- dark-colored urine
- light-colored stool
- stomach pain
- weight loss
Newborns sometimes have jaundice due to insufficient amounts of a certain liver enzyme. Other causes of jaundice include:
- bile duct blockage
- blood diseases
- cancer of the gallbladder or pancreas
- certain forms of anemia
- drinking too much alcohol
- hepatitis and other liver infections
- inherited disorders such as Crigler-Najjer, Dubin-Johnson, and Gilbert syndromes
- taking certain medications
If you have a raised yellowish lesion in the white part of your eye, it may be a pinguecula. These are most likely to be found on the side closest to your nose.
Unlike jaundice, which causes the whites of both eyes to yellow, a pinguecula is likely to cover just a small portion of one eye.
Other symptoms include:
- feeling like there’s something in your eye
Pingueculae actually form on the conjunctiva, not the sclera. They can develop from abnormal deposits of protein and fat, possibly due to chronic eye irritation or excessive exposure to UV light.
The whites of your eyes should always look white. If they look yellow, it’s more than a cosmetic problem, so there’s nothing you can do to clear them up on your own.
If you have red spots or what appears to be a pinguecula, see an eye doctor.
When both eyes are turning yellow, it may very well be a sign of jaundice. Call a doctor right away.
Treatment for jaundice will depend on the specific cause.
Jaundice can be due to a serious, even life threatening condition. Call a doctor or go to the nearest emergency room if you suspect you have jaundice.
Anicteric sclera means that the white part of your eye is white and healthy in appearance. Icteric sclera means the white part of your eye is yellow, a sign of jaundice.
A variety of conditions can cause jaundice, including problems with the liver, pancreas, or gallbladder.
If your eyes are starting to turn yellow, see your doctor as soon as possible.