How Thyroid Disease Affects Your Eyes

How Thyroid Disease Affects Your Eyes

About 20 million Americans have thyroid disease, according to the American Thyroid Association, and about 12% will have it at some point during their lives. That means all of these women and men are at risk for developing thyroid eye disease (TED), along with the vision issues it can cause.

Soheila Rostami, MD, and Joseph Davidson, MD, help patients at Rostami OPC understand how thyroid eye disease happens, along with what symptoms to look for. For patients who already have TED, we can prescribe treatments aimed at improving eye health and preventing vision disorders associated with thyroid eye disease.

Your thyroid and your eyes

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that “hugs” your neck. It produces several hormones that help regulate body temperature, metabolism, heart rate — even your digestion process. 

Your thyroid gland produces specific amounts of hormones to keep your body healthy and functioning. But sometimes, the gland produces too many hormones (hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid) or too few (hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid).

Vision problems are almost always associated with hyperthyroidism, often with a thyroid-related autoimmune disease called Graves’ disease. In fact, about a third of people with Graves’ disease develop Graves’ ophthalmopathy, a series of eye- and vision-related symptoms associated with their underlying thyroid problem.

Symptoms of thyroid eye disease

Thyroid eye disease is a progressive condition that causes the tissues around the eyes to become inflamed and swollen. Most of the tissues around the eye can be affected, including the muscles, tear ducts, fatty tissue, and the connective tissues that surround the eye orbit.

TED has many symptoms, including:

  • Sandy or gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Excessive tearing
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes
  • Puffiness around the eyes or eyelids
  • Eyes that look red or inflamed
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Double vision
  • Vision loss

When TED affects the muscle tissues and connective tissues, it can cause eye bulging that can become so severe, it can make it difficult or impossible to completely close your eyelids.

Rarely, thyroid-associated eye or vision problems can happen in people with low thyroid hormone levels or even people with normal levels of these hormones. It also tends to be more common among people who have a personal or family history of thyroid disease or TED, and among women.

Treating TED

Thyroid eye disease treatment typically involves multiple approaches focused on treating the underlying thyroid problem, as well as the vision disorders. Depending on the symptoms you experience and other factors, your treatment might include:

  • Oral medication
  • Topical medication
  • Eye drops
  • Dark lenses to reduce light sensitivity
  • Prism lenses for double vision
  • Corticosteroids for inflammation
  • Medicine to control the autoimmune response

Some patients require surgery to reduce eye bulging and prevent ongoing damage that could cause permanent vision loss.

Having regular eye exams plays an important role in catching TED symptoms early, but it’s also extremely important to schedule an appointment if you develop any unusual eye or vision symptoms. To learn more about how we can help you manage your thyroid eye disease at our Reston, Virginia, practice, call 571-568-8716 or book an appointment online with the team at Rostami OPC today.


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