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How Does Graves’ Disease Affect Your Eyes?

Disease Affect Your EyesGraves’ disease has widespread effects on the human body. The disease causes excessive production of thyroid hormones, which play a role in multiple body systems. The extra hormones cause systemic issues that can be hard to diagnose, especially those related to the eyes. 

What is Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

The eye-related symptoms of Graves’ disease are known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy. Other names include Graves’ orbitopathy, thyroid eye disease, and Graves’ eye disease. These symptoms affect up to 50% of Graves’ disease patients and include inflammation of the eyes, eye muscles, and surrounding tissues. Graves’ ophthalmopathy can considerably diminish the quality of life for its sufferers. Researchers and doctors still do not completely understand this disease, making treatment difficult in severe cases.

What are the symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

Symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy may display during an episode of hyperthyroidism, but not always. Some people show Graves’ ophthalmopathy symptoms years before or after hyperthyroidism. The most common symptoms include:

  • Redness or inflammation of the conjunctiva
  • Swelling of eyelids
  • Sensitivity to sunlight
  • Proptosis – forward bulging of the eyes
  • Excessive tearing of the eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Double vision

Advanced cases may display:

  • Optic nerve compression
  • Decrease eye and eyelid movements
  • Inability to close the eyes
  • Corneal ulceration
  • Vision loss

Am I at risk of developing Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

Some risk factors of Graves’ ophthalmopathy mirror those of Graves’ disease, including being female and under 40 years old. Other risk factors for Graves’ ophthalmopathy include:

  • Current hyperthyroidism secondary to Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • History of hyperthyroidism
  • Family history of hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease
  • Older age at onset of hyperthyroidism
  • Long periods of hyperthyroidism
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Exposure to radioactive iodine treatment
  • Hypothyroidism

Some risk factors have only been identified in small studies and need larger clinical trials for better understanding of their role in Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

Can Graves’ ophthalmopathy be treated?

The most important thing while treating Graves’ ophthalmopathy is to maintain normal thyroid hormone levels, using either medication or surgery. Once thyroid hormone levels are stable, treating the symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy is the next priority. Common treatments include:

  • Cold eye compresses
  • Sunglasses
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Elevating the head while sleeping
  • Lens prisms for glasses
  • Steroid medications

Severe cases may require surgery of the eyelid, eye muscles, or orbital decompression. Surgery can have impressive results for Graves’ ophthalmopathy patients, but less invasive treatments should be exhausted first.

If you are worried about Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism affecting your eyes, come see our team of experts at the J. Justin Older Eyelid Institute in Tampa. We can evaluate your eyes and provide a comprehensive plan to combat any eye conditions, including Graves’ ophthalmopathy. Call (813) 971-3846 in Tampa or (727) 343-3004 in St. Petersburg to schedule your initial consultation today.

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Phone: (813) 971-3846
(727) 342-3004 (also after hours)

Office Hours:
Mon - Fri: 8am - 5pm

5379 Primrose Lake Cir
Tampa, FL 33647
(Inside the office of The Bowman Institute for Dermatologic Surgery)
Phone: (813) 971-3846

6950 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33707
(Inside the office of The Pasadena Eye Center)
(727) 342-3004 (also after hours)

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