What Is Thyroid Eye Disease?

What Is Thyroid Eye Disease?

Are your eyes red, gritty, or bulging? It could be a warning sign of thyroid eye disease, an autoimmune disorder. Thyroid eye disease is a rare disease, typically associated with Graves’ disease (a cause of overactive thyroid), characterized by progressive inflammation and damage to the tissues around the eyes.

What Causes Thyroid Eye Disease?

Thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes your immune system to mistakenly attack the tissues behind your eyes. Up to half of the people who have Graves’ disease may develop thyroid eye disease over time.

A variety of factors including genetics, the environment and smoking may cause or worsen thyroid eye disease.

What Are Common Symptoms of Thyroid Eye Disease?

Common symptoms of thyroid eye disease include:

  • Eye pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Gritty, dry eyes
  • Bulging eyes
  • Red watery eyes
  • Light sensitivity

How is Thyroid Eye Disease Diagnosed?

If you are newly diagnosed with thyroid eye disease, your eye doctor may ask you to see an endocrinologist to check your hormone levels.

Diagnoses can include several tests:

  • Blood test: are used to check your thyroid levels and thyroid antibodies
  • Imaging tests: CT or MRI of the eyes can be used to examine swelling tissue behind the eye
  • Vision testing
  • Color vision testing
  • Visual fields
  • Eye measurements
  • Eye pressure readings
  • Optic nerve tests

How is Thyroid Eye Disease Treated? 

Although rare, thyroid eye disease can cause severe eye damage if left untreated. Treatment for thyroid eye disease generally occurs in two phases:

  • Phase 1: Treating active eye disease using medications to preserve sight.
  • Phase 2: Treating permanent changes. This may require surgery to correct double vision, reduce swelling and eyelid retraction.

If you are experiencing any of the common symptoms or suspect you have thyroid eye disease, contact your health care professional for an examination to prevent vision-threatening problems.