Thyroid eye disease (TED) is an eye condition that causes the muscles and soft tissues in and around your eye socket to swell. It usually happens when you have a problem with your thyroid gland. It may also be called thyroid associated ophthalmopathy (TAO), thyroid orbitopathy, Graves’ orbitopathy or Graves’ ophthalmopathy (GO).
The period of inflammation and swelling caused by TED is known as the ‘active’ stage. This generally resolves on its own over a period of about six months to two years. After this, the inflammation settles, and this is known as the ‘inactive’ or ‘burnt out’ stage.
Our guide to thyroid eye disease covers the condition in more detail.
The most common way TED affects the eyes is by causing symptoms of dry eye - watering, grittiness, and soreness. You may also find that bright lights are uncomfortable.
TED can also cause some changes to the appearance of your eyes, and in some cases, to your vision:
Most people only get a mild form of TED. You may have dry eye which can be managed easily with lubricating eye drops. You may have some eyelid retraction or exophthalmos and any double vision you have may come and go and not cause too much difficulty.
Read in more detail about the ways in which TED can affect your eyes and sight in our downloadable guide (Word, 682KB).
During the active stage of TED treatments are aimed at improving your symptoms and protecting your eyes while the condition runs its course.
Most commonly, this involves treating dry eyes or double vision. Symptoms of dry eye can be managed with artificial tear eye drops, and double vision may be managed with prisms or occlusion (covering one eye). For most people, this is all the treatment they will need at this stage and the condition won’t get any more advanced than this.
Much less commonly, where your vision is at risk, you may need treatments to avoid damage to your optic nerve. Very few people have TED that progresses to a stage where these treatments are needed.
Read in more detail about treatments during the active stage of TED in our downloadable guide (Word, 682KB).
During the active stage of TED, there are some things you can do that might help your symptoms:
The swelling caused by TED can often improve once the active stage has passed, meaning there can be some improvement in the appearance of your eyes.
However, some people may be left with some changes caused by the swelling and may need surgery to deal with any remaining double vision, ensure the eyelids are protecting your eyes, and improve the appearance of your eyes.
Often, several surgeries are required to manage the changes caused by TED and may be carried out over about 18 months to 2 years
Read in more detail about these surgeries in our downloadable guide (Word, 682KB).
The British Thyroid Foundation provides information and support for people with any kind of thyroid problem, and their families.
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