Graves disease is also known as “Thyroid Eye Disease.” It is a condition where imbalances in the thyroid gland and the body’s own immune system cause a variety of complications in and around the tissues of the eyes. Also known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy, or Graves’ orbitopathy it tends to cause inflammation issues in the muscles and tissues around the eyes, which can impact your vision and cause your eyes to puff up.

The symptoms of Graves Eye Disease can vary in type and severity. Many people with this condition complain about their eyes feeling dry or gritty. In a more severe case, the inflammation in the tissues around the eyes might push the orbits forward, which can affect vision quality. In a rare few people have even lost the sight in one or both eyes.

What Causes Graves Eye Disease?

Imbalances in the immune system cause your body to mistake your own tissues for a pathogen this affects the thyroid, the tissues around the eyes, and can cause other complications. When this happens your immune system releases antibodies that attack the fat, muscle, and other tissue in and around the eyes.

The underlying cause of this dangerous immune response is yet unknown. Though people who are genetically predisposed to autoimmune disorders, tend to be at higher risk of developing Graves Disease as they age.

Hyperthyroidism & Graves Disease

Hyperthyroidism is a medical condition where the thyroid gland in the neck releases an excessive amount of thyroid hormone over a prolonged period. People who hypothyroidism, tend to have an underactive thyroid gland and seem to be at a lower risk of developing Graves Disease.

How Is Graves’ Disease Linked To Thyroid Health?

Graves’ disease is essentially an immune system disorder that causes the body to attack the thyroid gland and other tissues in the body. This unprovoked attack then triggers the body to produce extra thyroid hormone.

It’s important to note that Graves’ disease doesn’t specifically cause thyroid eye disease. Though both conditions tend to develop at the same time. This trend might be linked to the proteins in the tissues around the eyes being very similar to the kind of proteins found in the thyroid gland.

Are There Increased Risk Factors For Graves Disease?

While research is still ongoing, some factors are known to put you at higher risk of developing Graves Disease at some point in your life. Smokers and women tend to be at increased risk of developing Graves Disease as they age. People with a genetic predisposition for autoimmune disorders and those who are actively dealing with one or more chronic autoimmune disorders are also at high risk for developing Graves Disease. There also seems to be a correlation between radioiodine treatments and heightened risk for thyroid eye disease.

How Does Graves Disease Affect The Eyes?

The tissue inflammation around the eyes caused by Graves Disease can cause increasing pressure in the orbit that holds your eyes in place. Over time this can lead to excess pressure that can deform and possibly even damage one or both of the eyes. In some severe cases, individuals with Graves Disease complain about an inability to close the eyes all the way.

What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Graves Disease?

Symptoms of Graves disease can vary in severity. Most people who develop thyroid eye disease will experience one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Persistent redness in the whites of the eyes
  • Irritation that feels like grit or dirt in the eyes
  • Discomfort and increasing pressure around the eyes
  • Dry or watery eyes
  • Problems with double vision
  • Increasing problems with light sensitivity

Can Graves Disease Be Prevented?

Currently, there doesn’t seem to be any way to fully prevent Graves Disease. Though there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. This includes things like quitting smoking and being mindful of Graves Disease symptoms when receiving radiation therapies like radioiodine treatments.

Having a routine eye exam performed each year will also go a long way toward catching Graves Disease in the early stages. This helps improve treatment options and developing more effective ways to reduce symptoms.

How Long Does Graves Disease Last?

The symptoms of Graves Disease can vary in duration from one person to the next. On average most, Graves Disease sufferers will experience symptoms and inflammation for around 6 months to as much as two years. This could be longer if the eyes have been damaged or you have other complications caused by thyroid problems or other autoimmune disorders, the symptoms could last longer.

Can Graves Disease Be Treated?

In some cases, Graves Disease symptoms can be reduced with things like prescription steroids from a physician as well as simple at-home remedies. Most Graves Disease suffers will notice their symptoms gradually decreasing over time. In some severe cases, your physician or eye doctor might recommend surgical intervention to help deal with complications related to severe swelling and inflammation. Some treatment plans might also including treating any active thyroid issues that develop along with Graves Disease.

How Is Graves Disease Diagnosed?

There are different ways to diagnose Graves Disease, often based on the type of physician you initially see. Ophthalmologists, optometrists, and endocrinologists all can start the diagnostic process. This might involve things like:
Blood tests to determine your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone.
Radioactive iodine uptake tests
Ultrasound diagnostic imaging

Can Graves Disease Cause Blindness?

In some cases, the inflammation and swelling in the muscles and soft tissues around the eye can place severe pressure on one or both of the eyes. This can gradually start to deform the shape of the eyes, leading to increasing vision problems. In some severe cases, these complications can lead to permanent vision damage and possibly even sight loss in one or both of the eyes. Roughly 3 to 5-percent of people with severe Graves Disease will experience vision loss. Though early detection can help reduce swelling complications or find other treatment strategies to prevent vision loss.