Thyroid Eye Disease

Thyroid eye disease (or TED) is a condition that causes the immune system to attack the muscles and other tissues around the eyes. The condition is most commonly associated with Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to produce more thyroid hormone than the body needs.

In most cases people who develop TED are already diagnosed with Graves’ disease, but for some, it is the first indicator of thyroid problem.  Approximately one half of all people diagnosed with Graves disease develop eye symptoms. In most cases the symptoms are mild, but for some, it can have more serious consequences.

The most common symptoms of TED include:

  • Pain and pressure
  • Dry, itchy, or watery eyes
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Inflammation and swelling of the eye and its surrounding tissues
  • Bulging or wide-eyed stare caused by swelling in the orbital tissues
  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Double vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Impaired vision
  • Difficulty moving the eyes

Thyroid eye disease can affect people differently. Symptoms can last from 6 months to 2 years. For some, symptoms may go away on their own, but others may experience lasting effects. To best treat the condition, it is best to work with a team of doctors, including a primary care physician, an ophthalmologist, and an endocrinologist.

For milder cases, applying lubricating eye drops and artificial tears a few times during the day can help be helpful.  It is also recommended to avoid conditions that can worsen the condition, such as wind and bright light (or try to wear sunglasses in these elements to protect your eyes). Other tips include applying cool compresses to provide relief and elevating your head while you sleep to relieve pressure on the eyes.

If you have severe symptoms, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone to reduce the swelling in and around your eyes.  In a very small percentage of patients, orbital decompression surgery may be recommended if your vision becomes impaired.

To schedule an appointment at Flushing Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center, please call 718-670-5486.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.