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A Basic Guide to Thyroid Eye Disease

thyroidThyroid eye disease, also known as Graves’ disease, is not nearly as well known as cataracts or glaucoma, but it is still a very important condition to understand. Thyroid eye disease causes the soft tissues and muscles in the eye socket to swell, most likely due to thyroid gland dysfunction. Mild cases of TED only cause mild symptoms, but left untreated it can lead to double vision and other serious conditions.

What is Thyroid Eye Disease?

Thyroid eye disease is based on the function of the thyroid gland, which is located in the neck and responsible for producing the hormone that regulates the body’s metabolism. When the thyroid over or under produces its hormone, the body struggles in different ways. Both overactive and underactive thyroids can lead to thyroid eye disease, since a surplus or deficiency of the hormone both affects the soft tissues, like fat and muscle, surrounded the eyeball within the eye socket.

The Impact of TED on the Eyes

The word “disease” makes TED sound very scary, but the truth is that the symptoms might be mild. Dry eyes, caused by reduced tear production, is the most common result of thyroid eye disease, and fortunately dry eyes are easy enough to resolve with special eyedrops or even tear duct surgery. As the soft tissue around the eyes become more inflamed, other symptoms might form, like puffy and red eyelids, incomplete blinking, bulging eyes, double vision, and painful eye movement.

How Does TED Affect Vision?

The most direct way that TED changes vision is by causing double vision, also known as diplopia, due to swollen eye muscles that interrupt how well the eyes can move together to send the right message to the brain. Though this isn’t a life threatening condition, it can make regular activities like driving very dangerous and reading incredibly difficult. This is why it is illegal to drive with double vision until it has been controlled with treatment. Severe thyroid eye disease can do more than cause double vision, however. Eventually, the pressure compresses the optic nerve and prevents the brain from receiving messages about what the eyes can see. This dramatically limits vision and requires immediate treatment.

Fortunately, TED can sometimes be controlled with medications, surgery, and radiotherapy that help the thyroid produce hormones in the right quantity. Other medications for dry eye and double vision can resolve the symptoms of TED while the thyroid imbalance finds equilibrium.

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