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Overactive Thyroid? Keep an Eye Out for Thyroid Eye Disease

January was Thyroid Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to spread awareness about the eye concerns that can come with an overactive thyroid. 

What is the thyroid? The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ in the lower neck that produces hormones to help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep organs functioning properly. Health concerns can arise when this gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism), resulting in a variety of weight, heart, energy, and temperature tolerance issues. 

Women having an eye examOf those with hyperthyroidism, four out of five cases are caused by Graves’ Disease, according to the National Eye Institute. Graves’ Disease causes a range of symptoms, including an enlarged thyroid gland. It tends to be more common in women, those with other autoimmune diseases, and those with a family history of the disease. In some cases, this brings with it the development of Thyroid Eye Disease (also known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy or Graves’ Eye Disease). 

Thyroid Eye Disease (TED) is commonly characterized by bulging eyes, caused by swelling behind the eye sockets. Those with Graves’ Disease are automatically at a higher risk for these eye problems, as the disease can make the immune system target specific muscles and eye tissue. Smoking can also contribute significantly to the development of these eye diseases. 

Symptoms of TED include:

  • Bulging eyes (proptosis) 
  • Double vision
  • Dry or irritated eyes
  • Eye pain or pressure
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Vision changes: vision loss, color vision changes, or visual field loss

Female doctor giving patients eye dropsTED is usually mild and can last several months to several years. However, even after regression of the disease symptoms may not completely return to normal. In severe cases, the disease can impact the optic nerve in a way that causes vision loss or vision changes, sometimes irreversibly. The best solution is ultimately to address any underlying hyperthyroid issues, but there are treatments that can help ease symptoms:

  • Eye drops: treats dry or irritated eyes.
  • Prescription medications: steroids and other medicines help reduce eye swelling.
  • Prism eyeglasses: these special prescription lenses can correct double vision.
  • Surgery: doctors may recommend orbital decompression, which makes the eye socket bigger in order to ease pressure on the optic nerve.
  • Radiation: can be used to reduce swelling.
  • Lifestyle changes: habit changes such as quitting smoking, wearing sunglasses, and raising your head while you sleep can all help reduce disease symptoms. 

In any case, visiting your eye doctor is the best first step toward treating Thyroid Eye Disease. Your primary care doctor can also help diagnose any underlying thyroid issues. 

The Eye Institute of Salus University offers comprehensive eye care to help manage eye disease symptoms. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned about your eye health, call 215.276.6111 to make an appointment at The Eye Institute.