Letter/Observer Forum

When the Whites of the Eyes are Red or Yellow

The eye provides a rich variety of information about normal and abnormal behavior and health, as noted by Scott Sleek in “Eye-Tuned” in the May/June 2014 Observer. Cues about the color of the sclera (the white of the eyes) can be added to the cited examples of iris and pupil, retina, and eye movements. Recent research that contrasted ratings of normal eye images with copies of those same images whose sclera were tinted red or yellow reveals that individuals use scleral color to make judgments about health, attractiveness, age, and emotion.

Images of individuals with reddened or yellowed sclera are rated as less healthy, less attractive, and older than those with untinted control sclera (Provine, Cabrera, & Nave-Blodgett, 2013). Although reddish and yellowish eyes have been recognized as medical symptoms since antiquity, the social and adaptive impact of such judgments has been neglected. White sclera join such traits as smooth skin and long, lustrous hair as signs of health, beauty, and reproductive fitness. Given these results, eye drops that “get the red out” are used as beauty aids.

In the emotional domain, images of individuals with reddened sclera — yellow was not examined — are rated as showing more sadness, anger, fear, and disgust and less happiness than images of individuals with normal, untinted sclera. Surprise was the only emotion about which judgments were unaffected by scleral redness (Provine, Nave-Blodgett, & Cabrera, 2013).

Scleral-color cues are unique to humans, being invisible in other primates because of their dark sclera. Only the human sclera provides the white area necessary for the display of its own color and that of the overlying, transparent conjunctiva. Red sclera are primarily the product of dilated conjunctival blood vessels, and yellow the result of the deposition of scleral lipids in aging and bilirubin in jaundice. Group members use such color cues to quickly access the emotional and health status of an individual. The evolution of white sclera and the associated color cues provide traits important to the emergence of humans as a social species.

For psychophysiologists, the conjunctiva provides a unique and easy means of directly visualizing the impact of emotion and physiological state on individual blood vessels in real time. Best of all, no special equipment is required to pursue this research — a still or video camera with a macro lens will do fine.
Few research problems offer such an attractive combination of low threshold for entry and high potential for discovery.

Robert Provine, APS Fellow
University of Maryland, Baltimore County


I have never had red or yellow in my eyes. This morning I work up with both in my left eye blood shot and yellow in the conner of the eye. The only thing I had done over the past few days is I had my toe erayed the machine was an old one in a drs office. This is not at all like anything I have aver had seen .

Not that I have read much about this in the past however I find the topic very interesting and think to some extent I use it in my nursing and will be more conscious of it from here on in. Interesting…….

I have a yellowish sclera and it started in 2013, as far as I can remember.Based on my personal researches, I found out that it might be a jaunddice. But when I had my check-up just yesterday, the doctor said it is not jaundice. It’s just that my sclera’s color is dirty white. I told him I also had UTI before and I am also low blood. He said, those might be contributors to the changing of my eye-color. I am taking ferrous sulfate. For my own peace of mind, according to him, I may take liver exams. My question is, would that be possible that there are people who have yellowish sclera but are not considered unhealthy?

And if found out that my liver is healthy, would it be possible that the yellowish color on my eyes would still disappear? What would be the best food to take?
I hope that you would take some time to answer my quests.
Thank you 🙂

Hi.. I have a reddish yellow eyes from my birth. It changes so dark when i get out of my bed in morning. I want a permanent solution to get rid of it.

Your comment* I have same problem too and it really gives me a heartbreak, pls I need a solution

I have yellowish sclera. specially sunlight gets me.Started 2 years before.i don’t have jaundice and any liver diseases as i checked in hospital. so, what might it be?

My eyes have yellow line across black dots and blood shots dots what do I do doc?

My eyes are always light yellow and some times its gets pale reddish
.Facing this symptoms from last 5 to 6 years.
Is this currable.?
Provide me the information as why this is happening.Help me

yes i have also this yellowish sclera specially sunlight gets me but sometimes its white not really white and i really bothered why i have this eye please can you please answer me…it realy bothered me

I too have recently been on a journey realizing that the red lines and yellowish coloring could possibly be directly related to ones organ health and inflammation. My local GP conducted some standard blood test with nothing other than slightly elevated Cholesterol being revealed.
I then took myself to an Integrative GP, who requested additional blood tests that revealed my Liver was not methylating correctly. She has now included some additional supplements into my diet. Hopefully this has the desired result over the coming few months, with both my liver and eyes clearing up. in saying that my red lines in the scelera part of my eyes have already started clearing quite a bit from adopting a majority vegan diet. I only eat meat once or twice a week now.

What type of vitamins did the doctor have you start taking along with the vegan diet?

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