Graves' disease is a common form of hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. It is a condition where the body???s immune system attacks the thyroid gland causing it to enlarge and produce high levels of thyroid hormones. Excessive amounts of hormone cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, sleeplessness, and rapid heartbeat. Inflammation and swelling in the soft tissues and muscles around the eyes can cause the eyeballs to bulge from the sockets, a distinguishing symptom of Graves??? disease.
It is hard for doctors to stop the immune system from causing the increased production of thyroid hormones, so treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms of Graves' disease. If the symptoms are mild, sunglasses and artificial tears provide some relief. Doctors prescribe medications to reduce the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid, and use radioactive iodine treatment to shrink the thyroid gland. In some cases, they will perform surgery to remove the thyroid gland. After surgery, medication is prescribed to mimic normal amounts of thyroid hormone.
If the eyes are protruding, the eyelids may not close during sleep or normal blinking, leading to eye irritation. Artificial tears used several times each day help to prevent the eyes from drying out and to minimize eye irritation. Prednisone or other steroids are sometimes used to reduce any swelling that occurs behind the eyes. In extreme instances, a surgeon performs orbital decompression surgery, a procedure that involves removing bone and/or fat around the eye in the eye socket. The procedure makes room for the swollen eye tissue and helps move the eyes back to their original position. This surgery is important to ensure the built-up pressure around the eye does not increase the pressure inside the eye, increasing the risk of glaucoma.
Recently, there has been a lot of attention paid to acupuncture as a possible alternative treatment for Grave's Disease of the Eye. This is a topic we will be writing a lot more about in the future, so please stay tuned!
Meanwhile, if you'd like to read an excellent blog about living with Grave's disease (and join in a very supportive community of people through the comments) click here.