What Is Graves’ Disease and How Does It Affect the Eyes?

What Is Graves’ Disease and How Does It Affect the Eyes?

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in the throat that produces hormones that regulate metabolism. The disorder is a subject of interest for the Los Angeles oculoplastic surgeons at Eyesthetica, due to its (often quite noticeable) implications for the eyes. Here, our oculoplastic surgeons describe Graves’ Disease in more detail and explain how it affects the eyes.

Understanding Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease causes the thyroid to overproduce hormones and the metabolism to go into overdrive. When this happens, a variety of symptoms can arise, including unexplained weight loss, tremors, and anxiety. Approximately 1 million people are diagnosed with Graves’ disease annually. Women under the age of 40 are at greatest risk for the disease.

One area of the body that is particularly vulnerable to the effects of Graves’ disease is the eyes. An influx of the thyroid hormone, coupled with circulating antibodies, can cause the tissues and muscles surrounding the eye to swell and the eyes to protrude. The protrusion may be mild, moderate or severe. In serious cases, substantial swelling makes it difficult to move the eyes and may cause double vision. The cornea can also ulcerate and the optic nerve (which connects the eye to the brain) can sustain damage.

When Graves’ disease affects the eyes, doctors may refer to the condition as thyroid eye disease or thyroid associated ophthalmopathy.

Symptoms of Graves’ Disease

Not related to the eyes:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • A rapid heartbeat or palpitations
  • Hand or finger tremors
  • Increased perspiration
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Unexplained weight loss

Related to the eyes:

  • A bulging or protruding appearance
  • Retracting upper and/or lower eyelids that reveal the eye’s sclera (white part)
  • Prolapse of orbital fat
  • An expression that looks like staring
  • Double vision
  • Dry eye symptoms – irritation, inflammation, sensitivity to light, excessive tearing

How We Can Help

Individuals with thyroid disease should be monitored and their treatment managed by their primary care physician or an endocrinologist. The Eyesthetica oculoplastic surgeons can help by repairing the deformities caused by Graves’ disease or thyroid eye disease.

We can perform eyelid surgery to correct the retraction. Or, through a procedure known as decompression, we can relieve some of the swelling that causes the eyes to protrude.

Contact Eyesthetica Today

If you have been diagnosed with Graves’ disease, please request a consultation with the Eyesthetica team. With offices in Encino, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Valencia and Torrance, we are sure you will find a location near you. Please call (213) 234-1000.