Complications of Thyroid Eye Disease (and How Treatment Can Help)

Untreated, thyroid eye disease can lead to vision loss.

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About half of people with Graves’ disease eventually develop thyroid eye disease, according to the American Thyroid Association. If you have Graves’ disease, your doctors will likely tell you to monitor for new eye symptoms. For example, you may have grittiness, pain, or double vision. Catching thyroid eye disease early and starting treatment can help prevent complications, including blindness.

Thyroid eye disease (also called Graves’ eye disease or Graves’ orbitopathy) causes inflammation of the eyes. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system is mistakenly attacking healthy cells. In the case of thyroid eye disease, the immune attacks are happening on the cells in the back of the eyes.

Possible Complications of Thyroid Eye Disease

Treatment for thyroid eye disease can reduce inflammation, relieve symptoms, and preserve vision. Without treatment, people with thyroid eye disease may experience complications such as:

  • Gritty sensations
  • Excessive watering of the eyes (lacrimation)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Inflammation (red eyes)
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty looking up
  • Eyelid retraction and bulging eyes (making the eyes appear shocked)
  • Permanent vision loss, including blindness

How Treatment Can Help

The threat of vision loss and blindness can be scary. The good news is that treatment for thyroid eye disease may control the condition and reduce the risk of these complications. For this reason, it’s important to talk to a doctor to seek a diagnosis early on.

In some cases, thyroid eye disease can progress quickly and lead to sudden, painful symptoms. This is considered an emergency. In this case, you should go to the emergency room. Surgery can help treat the problem and preserve eyesight. This procedure is called orbital decompression surgery.

If you notice new or worsening eye symptoms, talk to your doctor or care team. Luckily, there are options to get thyroid eye disease under control. That way, you can preserve your vision, appearance, and quality of life.