Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease which forces the thyroid into an overproduction of thyroid hormones and causes problems with your eyes. Some of these effects are only symptoms of Graves’ disease and not as harsh as the actual eye disorder, Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
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In this article:
- What Is Graves’ Disease?
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Graves’ Disease?
- Graves’ Disease and Its Effects to Your Eyesight
- Treatment for Eye Symptoms Associated with Graves’ Disease
- When to See a Doctor
How Does Graves’ Disease Affect the Eyes?
What Is Graves’ Disease?
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that forces the thyroid gland to produce excessive thyroid hormone.
This disease is usually a common cause of hypothyroidism.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Graves’ Disease?
While the signs and symptoms of the disease vary from person to person, the common ones include:
- Weight loss
- Increased sweating
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Frequent bowel movements
- Chest pain
- Muscle weakness
Graves’ Disease and Its Effects to Your Eyesight
Up to half of Graves’ disease patients develop eye symptoms. Take a look at the common eye problems associated with Graves’ disease below:
1. Bulging Eyes
Being an autoimmune condition, Graves ‘ disease can target organs like the eyes. It attacks the tissues and muscles in the eye socket causing inflammation. This causes them to swell and creates a protrusion or bulging of the eyes.
This protrusion can cause even more problems because it can stretch the optic nerve and cause blurriness and color blindness. If not treated properly, vision impairment may be permanent.
2. Eyelid Swelling and Redness
This inflammation also causes the eyes and eyelids to redden. Your eyelids fail to cover your eyes and constantly expose the cornea to the environment.
This constant exposure is dangerous because it can introduce dust and particles to your eye and cause an infection.
3. Light Sensitivity
Light sensitivity or photophobia is one of the mild eye symptoms of Graves’ disease. Your eyes are more vulnerable to ultraviolet rays and more sensitive to sunlight because of this autoimmune condition.
It is suggested to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun and hard winds since your eyelids may be unable to cover your eyes.
4. Limited Eye Movement
The inflammation may affect the muscles and cause soreness, fatigue, and an inability to look in different directions. Due to the swelling, the eye tissues have no place to go but outward which limits the eye movement.
You usually start having difficulty with upward eye rotation and then later with horizontal eye movements. These limitations in motility are generally associated with diplopia or double vision.
There are also times when you may have no ocular motility at all.
5. Graves’ Ophthalmopathy
Graves’ ophthalmopathy is more severe than the eyes symptoms of Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism. It’s also referred to as Graves’ eye disease or thyroid eye disease.
This is when your autoimmune condition makes immune cells attack the thyroid gland which creates excess secretion of thyroid hormone.
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Treatment for Eye Symptoms Associated with Graves’ Disease
It is normal for people with eye symptoms to seek treatment as these signs are often uncomfortable. Just as the symptoms vary, treatment depends on the case, too.
You can use simple home remedies like cool compresses. Others, however, may need radiation treatment or even surgery.
We’ve listed different types of treatment depending on the case of your eye symptom. You can consider doing these treatments for relief:
- Temporary Relief
If your case is mild, you can seek the help of cold compresses, artificial tears, and sunglasses. Doctors also often advise Graves’ disease patients to sleep with their heads elevated as this helps reduce swelling.
Healthcare professionals may also advise the use of prism glasses, especially if you are experiencing double vision.
- Supplements and Steroids
Selenium supplements may help reduce mild symptoms and swelling.
Taking a corticosteroid drug orally or intravenously may also be advised. This is the main treatment for Graves’ eye disease.
When swelling and eye-bulging continue to be a problem, oral prednisone may help prevent it from worsening. Intravenous corticosteroid or a high dose of prednisone is used if the optic nerve experiences compression.
Prednisone Definition: A glucocorticoid prescribed to immune and inflammatory conditions
Take note that this is only prescribed for Graves’ eye disease’s most serious complication. Included also in the treatment options are immune-suppressing medications like mycophenolate or rituximab.
- Radiation Treatment
Radiation is not a priority option as it can worsen the eye disease, but external radiation treatment of the eye socket may be done to ease swelling.
Eyelid surgery is a common surgery for the re-positioning of the eyelid. Experts may also consider doing eye muscle surgery to realign the eyes.
An eye specialist, known as ophthalmologist, performs these procedures.
There is also a type of surgery known as orbital decompression. This is done when the sight is threatened.
Orbital Decompression Definition: In this procedure, a medical expert removes a bone between the eye socket and sinuses to give more space for the swollen tissues.
When to See a Doctor
As cliche as it sounds, prevention is still better than cure. Seek medical help as soon as you encounter an uncomfortable symptom, so your doctor can give you sound advice on the next steps.
Medical professionals can give you a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Do not wait until you experience heart-related symptoms like an irregular heartbeat or develop vision loss.
Don’t forget to download, save, or share this handy infographic for reference:
Graves’ disease is an underlying autoimmune condition which affects both tissues of the thyroid gland and the eyes. Make sure to speak with your doctor about the possibility of Graves’ disease and what you can do about it to start treatment immediately.
Have you experienced any of these Graves’ disease symptoms? Which treatments have you tried to ease your symptoms? Share your experience with us in the comments below! We’d love to read from you.
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Taking care of your thyroids can help prevent these symptoms and lower the chances of Graves’ disease turning into hyperthyroidism. Do some of these to prevent having eye problems from Graves’ disease!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 12, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.