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Carotenemia and Yellow Colored Skin

Expert Q&A


Updated December 04, 2004

Q. I take care of my granddaughter and have noticed that she looks a little bit yellow and the bottom of her feet are also yellow. The whites of her eyes are not yellow. She does not eat carrots unless they are mixed in her stage 3 baby food, and her mother gives her veggie crackers, but I don't think she overdoses on them.

My son took her to her pediatrician this morning and she said that it could be because my son is Spanish (he is of a very light olive skin, considered white). My son's wife is white. My family also has very light olive skin, almost white, and the bottoms of our feet are pink.

I told my son to ask the pediatrician to have blood work done, but the doctor said that it was not necessary to put the baby through that. I would rather have the baby cry for 2 minutes and be at ease knowing that she is not anemic or heaven forbid something worse, that could be treated in time. Should I push for the blood test, or should I suffer in silence? Myrna, Tampa, FL

A. It sounds like your granddaughter has a classic case of carotenemia, in which an infant's skin appears yellow after eating a lot of foods that are high in carotene. These foods include carrots, squash, sweet potato, corn, yams, pumpkin, egg yolks, spinach, and beans. Other vegetables and fruits with a deep green or yellow color may also contain high levels of carotene.

Does she eat a lot of these foods?

Breastfed babies can also develop carotenemia if their mother is eating a lot of foods that are high in carotene.

Carotenemia is a harmless condition and you don't have to restrict these foods from your granddaughter's diet. It will likely go away over time, as your granddaughter gets older and eats more of a variety of foods.

And your Pediatrician is likely right that no blood tests need to be done, especially if she is otherwise growing and developing normally. The fact that her eyes aren't yellow is a good sign that she isn't jaundiced, and if she is otherwise well, there likely isn't anything else causing her skin to appear yellow.

You shouldn't 'suffer in silence' though. You might go to your granddaughter's next appointment and see if her Pediatrician can reassure you that this is normal. Or consider changing her diet some so that she isn't eating too many high carotene foods and see if her skin color becomes less yellow.

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