What Causes Pale or yellow Skin in Children and Its Treatments

Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Europeans and many more have different skin colors. Depending on the race as well as family genetics, a child’s skin can either be fair or dark. When a child is observed to be quite pale for a long time or exhibit yellow skin, these are cause for alarm because this is no longer normal.

There are many reasons or causes why a child’s skin can become pale. These reasons may be fleeting or they may be indicative of a serious disease. There are some factors that will help to determine whether the pallor seen in children is serious or not.

  • The duration or length of time the child has been pale is a significant clue to helping diagnose the cause of paleness.
  • Blood tests reveal low blood counts.
  • Pallor disappears with rest or inactivity.
  • Pallor is evident with exhaustive activities.
  • Any medical condition the child currently has.
  • The dietary habits of the child.

What Causes Pale Skin in Children?

  • Anemia – can be caused by an iron or vitamin B12 deficiency. This is one of the most common causes of paleness in children.
  • Anemia can result from low intake of iron rich foods, impaired absorption of iron, presence of intestinal parasites, intestinal bleeding, hemolysis, chronic kidney disease, and even intake of certain medications.
  • In anemia, the body has decreased iron which is important because it helps blood to carry oxygen.

Other common causes for paleness in children include:

  • Albinism – a rare genetic disorder where the child has partial or complete lack of melanin in the skin causing pale skin.
  • Vitiligo – patchy loss of skin color giving rise to pale looking skin.
  • Hypothermia – cool or low temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict causing a pale appearance.
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Childhood diseases accompanied with fever
  • Malnutrition
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Congenital heart disorders
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Genetic metabolic disorders such as phenylketonuria

Yellow Skin in Children

Aside from pale skin, yellow skin is not a normal skin color a child should exhibit. The presence of yellow skin is indicative of a serious condition.

  • When a child has yellow skin, he or she is said to have jaundice.
  • Jaundice is caused by an abnormally high level of bilirubin in the body.
  • Bilirubin is produced from the breakdown of hemoglobin in the body and then processed by the liver to be removed from the body.
  • There are several reasons why jaundice can appear including increased breakdown of red blood cells, poor liver processing of bilirubin, and blockage of bilirubin flow into the intestine.
  • Newborns are commonly diagnosed to have mild jaundice in the first week of life because of increased breakdown of red blood cells.

Treatment for Pale or Yellow Skin In Children

Treating pale or yellow skin in children will be targeted towards treating the underlying cause.

  • Anemia is treated with iron supplements or eating of iron rich foods.
  • Children should also be given vitamins or vitamin-rich foods to help in the absorption of iron in the body.
  • For severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary.
  • Jaundice is treated by eating a liver-friendly diet, taking antihistamines, vitamin B supplements, other medications, and in the case of blockage, surgery may be necessary.
  • Jaundice in infants is also treated with phototherapy.

2 thoughts on “What Causes Pale or yellow Skin in Children and Its Treatments

  • March 4, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    My grandson is 3 years old and recently after taking swimming lessons he felt cold, he was shivering, after leaving the swimming pool. When I was towel drying him and dressing him up I noticed his food and lower parts of his legs had an unusual yellowish color that later on disappeared (got back to normal). When he was about 1 year old I saw his face becoming also somehow yellow after we took him out of the car in a cold winter day. Again, few minutes later he had his normal color. He’s a white boy son of a Brazilian brown (Mediterranean type) mother and a fair skin Belgian father. His normal color skin is white. Since I live in another country I don’t see him regularly, but maybe during 2 or 3 days every months or so. I don’t know if this yellow skin phenomenon occurs often or just seldom or rarely. He has regular good quality medical care/follow up and despite catching colds quite often (lives in a cold, humid country), he seems to be in good health, is smart, energetic, fun, active, eats well. Had intestinal worms and got treated for it. He’s thin, and doesn’t seem to have much fat. We never talked to the doctor about this yellow color issue. It might be just a skin color change due to cold. Can you please advise me?

    • March 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm

      There are several reasons for spontaneous paleness of skin. It is due to reflex action of nerves and blood vessels to external environmental stimuli such as extreme cold. As your grandson had these episodes after swimming in cool water and once in the cold air while travelling, the probable reason seems to be that we discussed. With severe cold, the blood vessels may contract for few seconds and the skin may appear pale for a while, only to resume its original color with improvement in circulation. You may also do his blood test for hemoglobin to rule out anemia.


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