Thyroid Eye Disease

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Many people do not know much about the thyroid in the body until it begins to act up and causes issues. A malfunctioning thyroid can cause metabolism imbalances, blood pressure spikes, and Vitamin D deficiencies. However, not many people understand that a thyroid issue can lead to thyroid eye disease in the body, too.

Disease Overview

In most cases, thyroid eye disease clears up on its own time, but the disease can continue to develop and worsen. A mild stage of thyroid eye disease may need a patient to get regular check-ups and ointments to help fix the problem. But, if the disease is severe enough, twenty-five percent of those patients will lose their eye sight over time with no remedy able to help.

When thyroid eye disease takes place for the first time, patients are in the inflammatory or active stage of the disease. This stage can last for as little as a few months or up to three years. The tissue and muscles in the eye and around the eye are constantly reacting to the issue, and are trying to heal it.

Symptoms of thyroid eye disease can affect all parts of the eye and any skin or tissue around the eye itself, leading to a multitude of troubles. Some of these troubles may include double vision, red and agitated eyes, eyes that are watery, eyes that look like they are bulging out of the sockets, and problems completely closing the eye lids.

When wet or dry eyes happen during thyroid eye disease, lacrimal glands, which become inflamed, may be to blame. A patient may experience wet eyes one day and dry the next as the lacrimal glands struggle to help the eyes function appropriately.  As the human eyes continue to try to correct themselves, swelling may occur with the tissue around the eyes, making the eyelids puffy as well. Patients with thyroid eye disease may look tired, as their eyelids look “baggy” to the public eye. This could result in pressure over they eyes, when they are closed, and pressure around the eyes, when they are open.

As the area around the eyes continue to swell and tighten, the eyelids will continue to contract, making it harder and harder to close the eyelids over the eyeball. This results in the white color of the eyeball to bulge noticeably outward, away from the head. Patients that deal with this issue may start to receive interesting looks from people around them because these patients start to  look like they have ‘cartoon-eyes’ coming out from their skull.

Since muscles direct eye movement in the human body, they have a big responsibility for the way vision works. However, thyroid eye disease makes the muscles continue to swell, leading to a hard time focusing and vision issues where patients start to see double of everything they view.

As the eye continues to bulge and push forward, major issues could occur to the eyes. For example, a corneal ulcer may start to scar the eye and lead to a vision loss for the rest of a patient’s life. This type of ulcer is notorious for eye pain, redness, and a loss of vision.

The last injury to the eye, from thyroid eye disease, could affect the optic nerve negatively. Since the optic nerve connects the brain to the eyes, it helps facilitate what people see. The optic nerve starts to breakdown when a patient is diagnosed with thyroid eye disease. The nerve will start to become constricted, leading to abnormal colors, dimmed colors, and a loss of sharpness in each color. Ultimately, this disease could led to complete blindness. Recent statistics show that optic nerve constriction is very rare. Out of a hundred people who have thyroid eye disease, only five result in the constriction of the nerve itself.

How Can Thyroid Eye Disease Occur?

Thyroid eye disease occurs often times with patients who have already been diagnosed with a thyroid issue. Other times, people are made aware of their thyroid problem for the very first time. The most recent research has shown both thyroid eye disease and thyroid disease are a direct result of immune system issues.

Normally, the immune system helps to protect the body in a variety of ways, like fighting off a cold. To start, the immune system does not take kindly to viruses and bacteria, so it fights against abnormal substances within the human body. In turn, the immune system tries to fight thyroid eye disease, as well, by reacting to this foreign eye disease. The muscles and fat around the tissue of the eyes begin to react by swelling, watering, etc.

Other times, thyroid eye disease can occur even when the levels of the thyroid hormone are normal and doctors have no cause for concern. The same symptoms of thyroid eye disease will continue to happen, even if the thyroid is completely healthy. This may leave medical staff and personnel intrigued by this development, looking for other reasons as to why the human eyes are struggling with thyroid eye disease.

Thyroid Eye Disease Treatments

Treatments for thyroid eye disease vary from person to person. One treatment might be enough for one patient, but others may need to use the whole gamut of options. Eye doctors may attempt a plethora of tests that include color, vision, field visuals, measurements of the eyelids, optic nerve checks, photography, and pressure readings for the eyes. An eye doctor could test to find readings for every patient, and they may suggest glasses which are prism-shaped to help the eyes adapt with the disease. When there is a new diagnosis, an eye doctor may send the patient to a medical internist, doctor, or endocrinologist to check if the hormone is functioning properly or not. Tests and scans may be done to assess the situation further. The blood tests will check the functional ability of the thyroid. The Thyroid Function Tests, or TFTs, help measure blood anti-bodies to see if the body is protecting itself appropriately enough from disease or illness. Also, scans like the thyroid scan or uptake test also see if the thyroid is working effectively and effeniently. A scan can even be done on the body to show what tissues are being affect the most from the disease.

Other specific, trained professionals, called Ophthalmologist, may be needed to work with thyroid eye disease patients. These doctors understand this disease and how it works. In turn, patients have direct help when fighting against this eye issue.

To help with a thyroid issue, medication may be prescribed with an overachieving or underacting thyroid. The medication could include corticosteroids, to strengthen the eyes, or anti-inflammatories, to reduce swelling and harm to the eyes. However, medications to level hormones of the human body may not be enough to fix thyroid eye disease. Other options to help with thyroid eye disease include lubricated eyedrops and lotion to lessen the agitation of muscles and tissue.

As a last case option, surgery or radiation may be used to help fix thyroid eye disease. Surgery can help alter eyelids to place them back to normal around the eyeball, to move the eye muscles correctly in place, and to reacclimatize the muscles around the eyes back to normal. Even radiation is used, at times, to work with thyroid eye disease issues.

Unfortunately, not all surgical treatments are a success. Statistics show, after surgery, that 1 in 1,000 people may loss vision still as a result. In the same token, 15 in 100 people may have worse double vision over the course of their lives after surgery. Some of these outlooks may look bleak, but treatment is more a success than a hinderance in most situations.


As stated, thyroid eye disease can be a direct result of a thyroid issue, but the thyroid can be healthy as well, for the disease to present itself. There are many symptoms which patients may experience when dealing with the disease. However, there are a variety of treatments currently, which help suffers of this disease live a more normal life worth living. Check with your doctor today if you have any concerns dealing with thyroid eye disease.

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    julie boyd January 21, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    I am into my second year of thyroid eye disease and have run the gauntlet of all the specialists and nothing and no one has been able to help me. any suggestion

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