What is thyroid eye disease?

Thyroid eye disease: Overview

Graves' disease causes problems in the thyroid gland, which controls your metabolism. Sometimes it can also cause eye problems. This is called thyroid eye disease or Graves' ophthalmopathy. The tissues and muscles that surround your eye become swollen. This can cause your eye to move forward and bulge out. This can happen before, after, or at the same time as other signs of hyperthyroidism.

If you have thyroid eye disease you may have double vision. You may have swelling, pressure, or pain around the eyes. The skin around the eyes may look loose and baggy. You may also have dry or teary eyes, irritated eyes, redness, or problems closing your eyelids.

To treat Graves' disease, your doctor will make sure your thyroid level is normal. Your eye doctor will treat your eye symptoms or problems with your vision. The treatment will depend on how severe your symptoms are.

Artificial tears may be used to treat mild symptoms. If you have double vision, your eye doctor may recommend special lenses to help your vision. If you have swelling around the eyes, you may get a steroid medicine. It can help reduce the swelling. Or the doctor may talk to you about radiation or surgery for more serious eye problems. Radiation or surgery may help to treat problems in the muscles and tissues around your eyeball.

Graves' disease

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid gland, which produces hormones that control many of the body's functions. Graves' disease causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), which may make a person's heart pound and beat irregularly and may cause nervousness, mood changes, weakness, and fatigue.

Signs and symptoms of Graves' disease include diarrhea, rapid heart rate, inability to tolerate heat, and weight loss.

Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It tends to run in families. And it affects women more often than men. It can develop at any age. But most commonly it affects people between ages 30 and 50.

What happens when you have Graves' ophthalmopathy?

Graves' ophthalmopathy may get worse if your thyroid levels are out of balance. It may also get worse temporarily if you are given radioactive iodine therapy. Smoking increases your chances of developing Graves' ophthalmopathy. And it can make the condition worse.

Graves' ophthalmopathy

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Graves' ophthalmopathy, also called thyroid eye disease, is a frequent complication of hyperthyroidism. People with Graves' ophthalmopathy may develop eye problems, including bulging, reddened eyes; sensitivity to light; and blurring or double vision. The amount of eye bulging is not related to the severity of the hyperthyroidism.

How is Graves' ophthalmopathy treated?

Treatments may include corticosteroid medicines, immunosuppressants, radiation therapy, thyroid surgery, or eye surgery. To help reduce dryness, you can use saline eye drops (artificial tears) and eye ointment or gel. Wearing glasses will help protect your eyes. If you're a smoker, your doctor will advise you to stop. Smoking will make your symptoms worse.

How is Graves' ophthalmopathy diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your eyes and ask you to close or move your eyes. They may also test your vision and do color tests. You will also have blood tests done to check your thyroid. Imaging tests, like computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may also be used.

How can you care for yourself when you have thyroid eye disease?

To help reduce dryness, you can use saline eye drops (artificial tears) and eye ointment or gel. Wear glasses to protect your eyes from light, cold, or wind. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking will make your symptoms worse.

What is Graves' ophthalmopathy?

Graves' ophthalmopathy, also called thyroid eye disease, is an autoimmune disease that can occur in people with Graves' disease. In Graves' ophthalmopathy, the tissues and muscles behind the eyes become swollen. The eyeballs may stick out farther than normal. This can occur before, after, or along with other signs of hyperthyroidism.

How can you care for yourself when you have thyroid eye disease?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • To put in eyedrops or ointment:
    • Tilt your head back, and pull your lower eyelid down with one finger.
    • Drop or squirt the medicine inside the lower lid.
    • Close your eye for 30 to 60 seconds to let the drops or ointment move around.
    • Don't touch the ointment or dropper tip to your eyelashes or any other surface.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make thyroid eye disease worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If your eyes are dry, you can try artificial tears. You can buy these without a prescription.
  • If your eyes are sensitive to light, cold, or wind, you can try wearing dark glasses. This can help protect your eyes.

Thyroid eye disease: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse eye pain.
  • You have new or worse redness in your eye.
  • You have vision changes.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.