doctor looking at a screen of an eye machine

Thyroid Eye Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

doctor looking at a screen of an eye machine

The thyroid gland is a small endocrine gland located at the front of the neck. Endocrine glands release hormones, chemical messengers that help the body function properly. Because the thyroid gland controls so many functions of the body, thyroid disorders can manifest in many different ways, including the eyes.

This article will share an overview of Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), including common symptoms and when to seek help. Knowing this information can help you identify issues early and seek proper treatment.

What is thyroid eye disease (TED)?

Thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the eye muscles and the fatty tissue behind the eyes. TED can cause the eyes to bulge or push forward, making the eyes and eyelids appear red and swollen. You may also experience symptoms such as eye dryness, discomfort, and vision changes.

You may also hear TED referred to as Graves’ orbitopathy (GO) or Graves’ eye disease (GED). This is because it is most commonly associated with an overactive thyroid gland caused by Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself by mistake. This causes thyroid damage and often causes the thyroid to over-produce thyroid hormones in response.

TED has two phases: the active or inflammatory phase and the stable phase. The active phase may last for months and up to three years, and the stable phase occurs when the inflammation has stopped.

Who is most at risk of developing TED?

The immune system protects the body from foreign invaders. When a person has an autoimmune disorder, the immune cells mistakenly attack healthy body cells. TED occurs when the immune system attacks the cells surrounding the eyes. It is not entirely clear what exactly causes TED at this time.

TED most often occurs in individuals who have hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid. This condition can occur in individuals who have hypothyroidism, but this is not as common. Many individuals who get diagnosed with Graves’ disease also get TED. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Although Graves’ disease doesn’t directly cause TED, they commonly occur together.

It is possible to get TED without any thyroid disorder. However, this is not very common.

Factors that may place you at an increased risk of developing TED include:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being female
  • Having certain genetic factors
  • Using radioiodine treatment

Early signs and symptoms of TED

Symptoms of TED will vary as the disease progresses. Early signs of TED differ from the symptoms that will develop later. Although you cannot prevent TED, adjusting certain lifestyle factors can make you less likely to develop this condition.

blood sugar measuring device being used

Early signs of TED include:

  • Itchy, dry eyes
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Watery eyes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Swelling of the orbital tissues
  • Pain when moving eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Double vision

As the disease progresses, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Vision impairment
  • Difficulty closing the eyes
  • Increased light sensitivity

Symptoms of TED can go through phases in which the severity varies and goes into periods of remission. When remission lasts for about six months, it is less likely to return.

How is TED diagnosed?

TED is usually diagnosed with an eye exam. Your doctor will examine both eyes and eyelids to look for signs of the condition. If you have never been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, your doctor will also want to do some bloodwork to examine your thyroid function.

Thyroid hormone levels in the blood can help your doctor determine if your eye problems are related to a thyroid issue. They will look to see if you have any abnormalities in your thyroid hormone levels. Your blood work will likely also test for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels and thyroid antibody levels. Thyroid antibody tests can help your doctor see if you have a thyroid issue that is autoimmune in origin.

You may also be advised to have some imaging scans done, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI. Imaging scans give your doctor a look inside your body to see what your thyroid gland looks like. They will look for any abnormalities, such as growths or swelling.

What treatments are available for TED?

If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, then your doctor will take steps to treat that condition first.

  • Hyperthyroidism may be treated using antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta-blockers, or surgery.
  • Hypothyroidism is often treated with a thyroid hormone medication called levothyroxine. Levothyroxine helps replace the missing thyroid hormones your body needs to function properly.

Treating thyroid disease does not directly treat thyroid eye disease. Treatment options for TED include the following.

  • Over-the-counter medications: Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter eye drops to help with dryness and irritation that happens with TED. Sometimes, doctors will recommend a selenium supplement to help with symptoms.
  • Prescription medications:  Anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or rituximab are sometimes prescribed to help with symptoms.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking can increase your risk of developing TED. Quitting smoking can make a big difference in the effectiveness of treatment, as smoking can make the inflammatory stage last even longer.
  • Lifestyle changes: Using a warm compress on your eyes, wearing sunglasses, wearing glasses to help with double vision, and using a patch over one eye can help improve your comfort.
  • Surgery: Three main surgical procedures can help with TED: eyelid surgery, eye muscle surgery, and orbital decompression surgery.
    • Eyelid surgery can make it easier for your eyes to close properly, so your cornea remains protected.
    • Eye muscle surgery helps to correct double vision.
    • Orbital decompression surgery helps to relieve pressure to lessen the bulging of the eyes.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy is sometimes recommended as a treatment option for TED.

Symptoms of TED sometimes go away on their own, but it’s important to seek professional help. Your doctor can help guide treatment and determine if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Treating the underlying thyroid condition is important so that it does not to worsen.

Eye problems can still occur even after treating thyroid conditions. Serious complications are rare with thyroid eye disease, but the condition can lead to vision loss if left untreated.

Final Thoughts

Changes in your vision can be scary and may even make some people feel reluctant to see their doctor. If you think you may have TED or another thyroid-related issue, it is important to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Diagnosing your symptoms can provide you with a treatment plan so that you can catch and treat issues early.

Lab Testing - Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to do lab tests occasionally?

It is important to do lab tests occasionally because they can provide valuable information about an individual's health and help to identify potential health issues early on. Lab tests can measure a wide range of factors, including blood count, cholesterol levels, liver and kidney function, and hormone levels, and can provide insight into an individual's overall health and wellness. Additionally, lab tests can help to diagnose and monitor the progression of certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and can help to identify any potential health risks or concerns. By doing lab tests occasionally, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of potential health problems in the future.

How accurate are lab tests?

Overall, lab tests are generally considered to be accurate and reliable, but there is always a chance of error and it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to interpret the results.

How is a blood sample collected for lab testing?

A blood sample for lab testing is typically collected through a process called venipuncture, which involves inserting a small needle into a vein to draw blood. This is usually done on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

What does a routine blood test cover?

A routine blood test is used to check for a range of things, including your blood count and the levels of certain chemicals and substances in your blood. Blood tests can also be used to check how well certain organs, such as your liver and kidneys, are functioning.

What does routine lab work cover?

Routine lab work typically includes a blood test, which is used to check for a range of things, including your blood count and the levels of certain chemicals and substances in your blood. In addition to a blood test, routine lab work may also include other tests, such as urine and stool tests, which can help diagnose and monitor conditions related to the kidneys, liver, and digestive system. 

Can a blood test identify cancer?

In some cases, cancer can be detected with a blood test. However, not all cancers can be detected with a blood test, and some blood tests can produce false-positive or false-negative results. 

Can a blood test find other particular issues like problems with the heart, liver, or kidneys?

Yes, a blood test can sometimes be used to detect heart, liver, and kidney problems. Blood tests can also be used to measure the levels of certain substances in your blood, such as cholesterol and glucose, which can help diagnose and monitor conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. In addition, a blood test can check your blood count, which can provide information about the health of your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. However, it is important to note that a blood test is not always able to detect heart, liver, and kidney problems, and other tests, such as imaging scans or biopsies, may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.

What distinguishes a diagnostic test from a screening test?

A screening test is a type of test that is used to identify people who may be at increased risk of a particular condition, such as cancer or heart disease. In contrast, a diagnostic test is a type of test that is used to confirm or rule out a suspected diagnosis. So, the main difference between a screening test and a diagnostic test is the purpose for which the test is being performed.

Why do lab tests occasionally need to be repeated?

One common reason is that the initial test results were inconclusive or unclear, and repeating the test can help provide more accurate results. Lab tests may also be repeated if the initial results were abnormal and more information is needed to diagnose or monitor a condition. In addition, some lab tests are designed to be repeated on a regular basis, such as to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment or to check for any changes in a person's health over time. Finally, lab tests may be repeated if the initial test was performed incorrectly, or if there was some other problem with the sample that was collected.

Does having normal lab test results indicate I shouldn't worry about anything?

Having normal lab test results does not necessarily mean that you have nothing to worry about. Additionally, lab tests are not always able to detect all health conditions, and some conditions may not produce abnormal test results until they have progressed to a more advanced stage. 

What should I do after I have my lab test results?

After you have your lab test results, it is always best to discuss them with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will be able to interpret the results in the context of your overall health and medical history, and they will be able to recommend any necessary follow-up tests or treatments.

What is the cost of a lab test?

In general, the cost of a lab test can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It is always best to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider to get an accurate estimate of the cost of a lab test.

How is a blood sample for a lab test collected?

A blood sample for a lab test is typically collected through a process called venipuncture. This involves using a needle and syringe to draw blood from a vein, typically in the arm. The skin is cleaned with an antiseptic solution and a tourniquet is placed around the upper arm to help make the veins more visible. The healthcare provider performing the venipuncture will then insert the needle into a vein and collect the required amount of blood. The blood sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

Should I do anything to prepare for lab tests?

It is generally a good idea to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine what, if any, preparations are necessary for your lab tests. In general, it is a good idea to follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider, such as fasting for a certain amount of time before the test or avoiding certain medications. It is also a good idea to bring a list of all medications you are currently taking to your lab appointment.

Why is it necessary to fast before some tests?

Fasting before certain lab tests is often necessary because certain substances in the blood, such as glucose and certain fats, can affect the results of the test. By fasting, you are allowing your body to metabolize these substances, which can provide more accurate test results. Additionally, some tests require that you fast in order to properly prepare your body for the test.

Will a cup of coffee before my lab test mess with the results?

Whether or not you can have a cup of coffee before your test will depend on the specific test that you are undergoing and any instructions provided by your healthcare provider. If you are unsure about whether or not you can have a cup of coffee before your test, it is always best to ask your healthcare provider for advice.

Can my lab test get affected by diet or medications?

Yes, your diet and medications can affect the results of your lab tests. 

What do the lab test results mean?

The specific meaning of your lab test results will depend on the specific test that was performed and the reference range provided by the laboratory. The reference range is the range of values that is considered normal for a healthy person, and it is used to interpret the results of your lab test. If your test results fall within the reference range, it generally means that there is nothing unusual or concerning about your test results. However, if your test results are outside of the reference range, it may indicate a potential health concern that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Where are the reference (normal) ranges for lab tests?

The reference ranges for lab tests, also known as normal ranges, are determined by the laboratory that performs the test. These ranges are based on a large number of test results from healthy individuals, and they are used to interpret the results of your lab test. The reference range for each test is typically provided on the laboratory report along with your test results.

What if my lab test result is outside the reference range?

If your lab test result is outside of the reference range, it may indicate a potential health concern that should be discussed with your healthcare provider. Additionally, the reference range is just a general guide, and there may be other factors that can affect your test results.

How can I improve my lab test results?

There are several steps you can take to improve your lab test results. First, it is important to follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider when preparing for a lab test, such as fasting for a certain amount of time before the test or avoiding certain medications. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help improve your lab test results. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking. If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, it is important to manage it properly and follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for treatment.

Does having abnormal lab test results indicate that I have a health issue?

Having abnormal lab test results does not necessarily mean that you have a health issue. There are many factors that can affect the accuracy of lab test results, such as your diet, medications, and other medical conditions. Additionally, the reference range used to interpret your test results is just a general guide, and there may be other factors that can affect your test results.

Schedule your at Home Thyroid Test in with Driphydration

Drip Hydration is a prominent medical company that provides thyroid testing in the comfort of your own home. It's a great method to avoid visiting the doctor's office while still determining if your thyroid is releasing the necessary quantity of hormones your body requires to function properly. Drip Hydration appointments may be scheduled over the phone or online, and it is a handy alternative to regular medical therapy.

It's easy to make an appointment, and once you do, a medical professional from our team will visit your home to collect samples for testing. The samples are brought to our laboratory, where we inspect, evaluate, and advise you on what to do next. You may obtain a thyroid blood test straight away by arranging an appointment with Drip Hydration right away!