What is Carotenemia?
Carotenemia is a benign and completely harmless condition, which arises as a result of excess levels of carotene in the body. Excess levels of Carotene may lead to certain skin discoloration, which is usually yellow in color and may be sometimes misinterpreted as jaundice, although there is a huge difference between the two conditions which have been delineated below.
Carotenemia is a condition which does not need any specific aggressive treatment and can be managed with diet alone. Carotenemia can occur in people of any age, but it is seen occurring mostly in children. People with lighter skin complexion can most easily be identified due to the distinct yellow discoloration of the skin, but Carotenemia can occur in people of any skin complexion.
Coming to what exactly is carotene, it is a pigment which is found in fruits and vegetables which are basically yellow in color like mango, papaya and the like. Carotene is in no way harmful to the body and is a nontoxic pigment and in fact is a part of a healthy diet chart. Carotene is made up of different substances and the most common form found in the body is beta-carotene which is essential for production of vitamin A in the body. Thus, carotene plays an important part in human body. It is also beneficial for the skin, eyes and in pregnant women for fetal development, but excess of carotene in the body results in what is called as Carotenemia.
What is the Difference between Carotenemia and Jaundice?
Since the symptoms of Carotenemia are quite similar to that of jaundice, which requires emergent and aggressive medical attention, it is important to understand the difference between the two conditions. First and foremost Carotenemia is a skin condition whereas jaundice is not a condition itself, but is a sign of a failing liver or gallbladder. Carotenemia can be controlled by dietary changes whereas jaundice cannot be controlled just by diet alone. One of the biggest differences between jaundice and Carotenemia is that in jaundice the sclera or the white part of the eyes also becomes yellow which is not the case with Carotenemia.
While it has been stated that excess carotene consumption is harmless and does not cause any ill effects, some have suggested that it increases the risk of cancer, although this needs further clarification.
Types & Causes of Carotenemia?
There are two types of Carotenemia, primary and secondary carotenemia.
Primary Carotenemia: This type of Carotenemia occurs due to excessive consumption of carotene rich foods, especially carrots. The skin pigmentation as a result of high intake of carotene is associated with primary carotenemia.
Secondary Carotenemia: There are certain medical conditions which contribute to development of Carotenemia. This is because the carotene is not metabolized by the body the way it should, which results in accumulation of carotene in the body. Skin discoloration due to these factors is termed as Secondary Carotenemia, as it is not due to excessive carotene intake but by certain conditions resulting in inappropriate metabolism of carotene leading to carotene retention. Some of the conditions that can cause secondary Carotenemia are:
What are the Symptoms of Carotenemia?
The only presenting symptom of Carotenemia is the yellow discoloration of the skin. In some cases, the skin may have an orange tinge to it. This discoloration is mostly seen in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
How is Carotenemia Diagnosed?
A visual inspection of the skin discoloration is a virtual giveaway when it comes to diagnosing Carotenemia. The physician will also examine the sclera to see whether it is yellow in color as that may be a case of jaundice. If the sclerae are white and the skin color is yellow, especially in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet then a diagnosis is confirmed of Carotenemia. In order to further confirm the diagnosis, the following tests may be conducted:
- Blood tests to check the beta carotene levels in the body, which will be high in cases of Carotenemia.
- Skin biopsy to look for some other source for skin discoloration.
- Liver function test to check whether there are any chances of liver dysfunction, which is not the case with Carotenemia
These above tests confirm the diagnosis of Carotenemia.
How is Carotenemia Treated?
As stated above, there is no treatment required to treat Carotenemia as it is a harmless condition. Dietary changes in which intake of carotene rich foods is restricted is the only treatment that would suffice to treat Carotenemia, although stopping carotene rich foods altogether is not recommended as a mode to treat Carotenemia. For cases of secondary Carotenemia the underlying cause for Carotenemia needs to be identified and treated.