Understanding Graves’ Ophthalmopathy and Treatment

Graves’ disease is an immune system disorder that causes hyperthyroidism or overproduction of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play a role in many-body systems. Since it affects so many parts of the body, the symptoms of Graves’ disease can be vague and hard to diagnose. In 30-50% of cases, Graves’ disease affects the eyes.

What is Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

The effect of hyperthyroidism on the tissues and muscles around the eyes is known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy. Other names for this condition include Graves’ orbitopathy, thyroid eye disease, and Graves’ eye disease. Without proper treatment, Graves’ ophthalmopathy can considerably diminish the quality of life for its sufferers. Severe cases are more difficult to treat because researchers are still unclear about many aspects of the disease.

What are the symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

Graves’ ophthalmopathy is more likely to manifest during an episode of hyperthyroidism, but that is not always the case. Some sufferers report eye-related symptoms years before or after overactive thyroid production. Regardless of the timing of onset, symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy include:

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

Advanced cases may display:

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

Who is at the highest risk of developing Graves’ ophthalmopathy?

People with the biggest chance of developing Graves’ ophthalmopathy are:

  • Females under 40 years old
  • Individuals currently experiencing overactive thyroid hormone production because of Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Previous overactive thyroid patients
  • The family of previous overactive thyroid or Graves’ disease patients
  • Individuals prone to long periods of hyperthyroidism
  • Tobacco smokers
  • Individuals who have been exposed to treatments that used radioactive iodine
  • Underactive thyroid sufferers

While other symptoms have been suggested, research into Graves’ ophthalmopathy is new and still needs more support to fully examine the condition and report findings.

Is Graves’ ophthalmopathy treatable?

As long as normal thyroid production levels are maintained, either through medication or surgery, Graves’ ophthalmopathy is treatable. Thyroid hormone levels must be stabilized, then focus will turn to the other symptoms of Graves’ ophthalmopathy. Treatments to minimize symptoms include:

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

Serious cases may require surgical intervention. While surgery can offer impressive results for Graves’ ophthalmopathy patients, less invasive treatments should be tried before going under the knife.

If you are worried about Graves’ ophthalmopathy affecting your eyes, schedule a visit with our team of medical professionals at the J. Justin Older Eyelid Institute in Tampa. We will work with you to develop an integrative treatment plan to correct any eye condition, including Graves’ ophthalmopathy. Call (813) 971-3846 in Tampa, (727) 343-3004 in St. Petersburg, or contact us online to learn how you can live healthier and see better at the Eyelid Institute!

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Phone: (813) 971-3846

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

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