What Are the Benefits of Sunlight for Jaundice?

Jillian O Keeffe

Sunlight is a major part of the environment with demonstrated biological effects on the body. Fundamentally, sunlight for jaundice can be part of an effective treatment plan because the light breaks down bilirubin, the substance in the blood causing the distinctive yellow skin coloration of the condition. Sunlight may be recommended by a medical professional as a treatment for jaundice, especially in babies, but as of 2011, the scientific evidence shows that alternative light therapies, such as phototherapy, can be safer treatments than sunlight.

Sunlight breaks down bilirubin, which is associated with jaundice.
Sunlight breaks down bilirubin, which is associated with jaundice.

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes from unusually high levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream. This substance is present in all healthy people as a component of red blood cells, but when these cells are broken down; however, the liver normally takes the bilirubin out of circulation. With a liver that is not working properly, or with one that is immature, the bilirubin may remain in the bloodstream and produce a decided yellowish tinge to the body. Newborn babies are especially prone to jaundice as their livers have not matured fully by the time they are born.

Blood transfusions might be necessary to treat jaundice.
Blood transfusions might be necessary to treat jaundice.

Light wavelengths in the environment can break down bilirubin in the blood, thus improving the color of the affected patient; this can allow the breakdown products to be removed more easily by the liver. Sunlight for jaundice can deliver the appropriate types of light wavelength, which can be an extremely helpful treatment. Medical professionals may in fact recommend sunlight for jaundice in babies, although other types of light treatment may be available. A significant risk associated with sunlight for jaundice involves the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight.

Skin damage can occur, and potentially increase the risk of skin cancer in the future, when a person is exposed to direct sunlight. Babies, with their delicate skin and developing bodies, are especially at risk. Exposure to sunlight behind a glass window does not carry these same risks, and it is this type of exposure that is often recommended by medical professionals for home treatment. Phototherapy, which exposes jaundice sufferers to artificial sources of light that do not contain potentially damaging ultraviolet light, can also help improve the symptoms of the condition. Other examples of potentially beneficial treatment for jaundice, for use specifically in babies, include blood transfusions and the use of immunoglobulin injections.

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