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People can inherit sickle cell disease from their parents when both parents have at least one of the sickle cell traits.

The way sickle cell disease affects the eye can be divided into anterior and posterior eye disease. Anterior eye disease involves the frontal aspect of the eye such as the conjunctiva, the cornea etc., while posterior eye disease affects the optic nerve, the retina and the subretinal tissues, the blood vessels and the cells that provide nutrients to the retina. Specific areas within the eye where sickle cell disease can manifest include the conjunctiva, sclera, iris, retina and choroid.

One easy, obvious way sickle cell anaemia affects the eyes is making it appear yellow. This symptom is called jaundice. However, it is worthy to note that several other health conditions could lead to yellow eyes or jaundice apart from sickle cell disease. So doctors always ensure that other possibilities are eliminated. A dilated eye test can determine if someone with the sickle gene has issues with their eyes and also to check if the treatment prescribed for them is working effectively.

Cause of Jaundice in Sickle-cell Disease

Jaundice is a common sign of sickle cell disease, and it is due to the accumulation of a compound known as bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is a yellow compound made during the normal breakdown of the red blood cells. This is not usually a problem as the liver filters bilirubin from the blood and uses it to produce bile. But because sickle cells die faster than the liver can filter them out, thus remaining longer in the liver, the bilirubin accumulates in the body and causes jaundice. This then makes the white part of the eye, called the sclera, yellow.

Coping with Sickle Cell

The yellowing effect of sickle cell disease on the eyes cannot be cured, but it can be managed. This can be done by;

  • Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Eating regularly
  • Reduction of processed foods to avoid overworking the liver
  • Drinking lots of water to help with the excretion of bilirubin
  • Avoiding extreme weather conditions
  • Being very careful with physically exerting activities
  • Avoiding infections by maintaining healthy practices, avoiding sick people and getting regular check-ups.

People with sickle cell disease need to stay as cheerful as possible and enjoy life to the full as they can manage. No matter the colour of the eyes, read, watch and do things that make you happy. Stay in touch with your medical professionals. Contact us for more information on managing the eye health of people with sickle cell disease.