How Does Thyroid Disease Affect the Eyes?

Thyroid disease has far reaching effects to all parts of the body. Though the link between hyperthyroidism and Graves’ eye disease is not completely understood, an obvious connection does exist. Graves’ eye disease occurs in roughly 50 percent of patients who suffer from Graves’ hyperthyroidism.

Often referred to as Graves’ disease, thyroid orbitopathy is characterized by swelling in the soft tissues and muscles surrounding the eye socket. Patients typically experience periods of inflammation and swelling followed by periods of healing.

Graves’ disease is frequently seen among those with thyroid gland issues, whether underactive or overactive. It is often associated with an overactive thyroid gland. However, about 10 percent of those who are diagnosed with Graves’ disease have no thyroid issues at all.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by the reaction of antibodies and lymphocytes with certain proteins, connective tissue and fat located around the eyeball itself. It is vital to note the difference between Graves’ disease and eyelid spasms that occur in many thyroid patients as a result of excessive thyroid hormones.

• Inflammation of eye tissues
• Red, painful, watery eyes especially in sunny or windy weather
• Eyelids become swollen and filled with fluid
• Eyes bulge and appear to be pushed out of their sockets
• Reduced clarity of vision particularly in seeing color
• Blurred or double vision
• Decreased range of motion in the muscles of the eyes

There are not diagnostic tests that can specifically confirm the presence of Graves’ eye disease. However, the antibodies found in Graves’ hyperthyroidism are the same as those found in the eye disease. Most often, symptoms are a key marker for diagnosis of Graves’ disease.

As with diagnostics, there is not presently an effective treatment for Graves’ eye disease. However, since hyperthyroidism seems to be clearly linked, it is critical to treat thyroid issues as quickly as possible. When thyroid concerns are speedily addressed, many patients notice improvement in their eyes.

Some of the changes to the eyes tend to resolve within a 24 month period without any treatment measures. The bulging effect and double vision may not disappear entirely, causing cosmetic concerns and decreased visual acuity.

Regular eye exams are essential to monitoring overall eye health and tracking any further changes. In severe cases, corticosteroids or operations may be deemed necessary.

Risk Factors
The overall impact of the disease depends on the function of the thyroid gland as well as age, gender and environmental factors.