Thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disorder that impacts the tissues of the eyes and the eyelids. Like other autoimmune disorders, thyroid eye disease cause the body to attack itself. In this disease, there is an adverse reaction that occurs between the fatty tissues of the eye and the white blood cells known as lymphocytes. As a result, the eyeballs are literally pushed out of their sockets. As many as half of all patients with the type of hyperthyroidism know as Graves’ disease suffer from thyroid eye disease.
Signs and Symptoms include:
- Pain in the eyes, pain when looking up, down or sideways
- Dryness, itching, dry eyes, difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Inflammation and swelling of the eye, and its surrounding tissues making eyes painful, red, and watery
- Swelling in the orbital tissues which causes the eye to be pushed forward making sufferers appear to have a wide-eyed or bulging stare
- Double vision (doctors call it diplopia) or impaired vision
In mild cases of Thyroid Eye Disease, often all that is needed is lubricating eye drops for moisture, wraparound sunglasses to avoid glare, humidifiers to reduce dry eye problems. When double vision occurs, some patients respond to the addition or prism lenses in their eyeglasses. For pain, swelling and redness, short courses of the steroid are sometimes prescribed.
In rare cases, when medical treatment has not resolved the retracted and puffy eyelids, or double vision, doctors will recommend corrective surgery. Eyelid surgery is primarily cosmetic in nature, and is designed to bring the eyelids into a more normal position, to improve appearance while surgery for double vision works with the muscles that control eye movement.
In a very small percentage of patients, the swelling in the orbital area impairs vision by pressing on the optic nerve. In these cases, a surgery called orbital decompression is needed in order to prevent severe complications.