Often, the first warning sign of thyroid disease is fatigue and changes in weight. However, for some, the trouble might begin in the eyes.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, sometimes eye troubles are what motivate a person with thyroid disease to seek treatment before their diagnosis.
The symptoms of thyroid eye disease, sometimes called ‘thyroid eyes,’ can include:
- Dry eyes
- Watery eyes
- Red eyes
- Bulging eyes
- A “stare”
- Double vision and other vision problems
- Difficulty closing the eyes
The clinic states that the cause of thyroid eye disease, as well as thyroid disease in general, could be an autoimmune disorder. When the immune system is not working properly, it might attack the muscles and fatty tissue around the eyes in the same way it is supposed to attack harmful foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and even cancer.
Thyroid Eye Disease Testing
A doctor might perform a blood test to check thyroid hormone levels. While many patients will have abnormal blood tests, others have uncomfortable eye symptoms even though their hormone levels are normal.
To assess your vision and changes in the tissues surrounding the eyes, a doctor might perform a variety of tests, including vision and color vision testing, visual fields, eyelid measurements, eye pressure readings, and an optic nerve exam.
People who are diagnosed with thyroid disease and suspect they have thyroid eye disease might be referred to an eye doctor for additional diagnostic testing and possible treatment.
Thyroid Eye Disease Treatment
For patients who have an overactive thyroid gland, some doctors recommend ablation of the thyroid gland, or taking oral thyroid medication when the gland is underactive. While keeping hormone levels in check cannot prevent all thyroid eye disease, it can help.
Redness, irritation, pressure and double vision can be treated with lubrication, anti-inflammatory medications and prisms for the double vision. As explained by Cleveland Clinic, the “active or inflammatory stage” of thyroid eye disease typically lasts one to three years, after which surgery might be recommended for lingering problems.
When to Seek Urgent Medical Care
There are other conditions associated with thyroid eye disease which might be putting your vision at risk — including corneal ulcers and optic nerve compression — which will need to be treated more urgently. If you have any of the following symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible:
- Redness of the eye with pain
- Decrease in vision
- Abnormal color vision
- Dim vision
- Decrease in sharpness of vision
The clinic emphasizes that not everyone with thyroid eye disease will experience corneal ulcers or optic nerve compression, however, it is important to know the symptoms so that the problem can be treated immediately should it arise.
For more information on thyroid eye disease, its symptoms, treatment, and possible complications, visit www.clevelandclinic.org.