Living With Thyroid Eye Disease

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If you have received a diagnosis of thyroid eye disease, this means you are also dealing with an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) caused by Graves’ disease. Managing several medical conditions at the same time can be a challenge. However, there are coping and self-care strategies that can help you.

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Emotional

It is normal to feel a variety of emotions after receiving a diagnosis of thyroid eye disease. Since this condition can affect the appearance of your eyes and physical health, you may also experience changes in emotional well-being.

Depression and Thyroid Eye Disease

Depression is common with thyroid eye disease. In fact, a recent study showed that 36% of people with thyroid eye disease reported symptoms of anxiety and depression.

You may also feel:

  • Angry
  • Confused
  • Relieved
  • Anxious 
  • Sad
  • Worried
  • Tense 
  • Tired 
  • Helpless 

If your feelings are having a negative impact on the quality of your life, talk to your doctor. There are treatments for depression that can help, such as medications and therapy. 

Physical

Certain lifestyle changes can help you manage thyroid eye disease and feel better. Before making any drastic modifications, talk to your doctor and ask for recommendations. 

Diet  

Eating a balanced and healthy diet is important for your overall health. However, thyroid eye disease and Graves’ disease may require you to make some changes. For example, you may need to avoid foods with large amounts of iodine because they can make the symptoms of hyperthyroidism worse.

Iodine-rich foods and products include: 

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Kelp
  • Dulse, and other types of seaweed
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Food additives including carrageen, alginate, agar-agar, and nori
  • Red dye #3 

Exercise

Although exercise cannot relieve specific symptoms of thyroid eye disease, it has other benefits like improving your mood and giving you more energy.

Staying active can increase your flexibility, strength, and mobility. In addition, Graves' disease can cause brittle bones, so doing weight-bearing exercises is important for your bone density.

Managing Your Weight

Exercise can help you manage your weight after you start treatment, which may make you gain weight. And since Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism affect your metabolism, weight management is an important part of treatment.

Stress Relief 

Finding activities for stress relief that fit your lifestyle and goals is part of living with thyroid eye disease. Stress can make you feel worse and make it more difficult to cope with this condition. 

Stress-relieving activities include:

  • Breathing exercises 
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Guided imagery
  • Massages 
  • Baths 
  • Listening to music 

Avoid Smoking 

Smoking is linked to worse symptoms of thyroid eye disease.

If you smoke, ask your doctor for help quitting or look for resources online. Quitting smoking is also important for your overall health. There are many methods to help you quit, such as medications or counseling.

Glasses and Sunglasses 

Since thyroid eye disease can make you sensitive to light, consider wearing sunglasses. You can obtain prescription sunglasses from an eye doctor.

Glasses With Prisms

Ask your doctor about wearing glasses with prisms, which can help reduce double vision caused by thyroid eye disease. You can order a prescription, no-line bifocal, or progressive lenses with prisms.

Use Eye Drops 

Thyroid eye disease can make your eyes dry, irritated, and red. Using eye drops and artificial tears can relieve some of these symptoms.

Thicker lubricating ointments for the eyes may also help. Ask your doctor for eye drop recommendations.

Eye Drops to Avoid

In general, you want to avoid eye drops with redness removers or preservatives that may cause irritation or inflammation.

Using lubricating eye gels or ointments before bedtime may help prevent dryness caused by your eyes not closing completely. 

Social

Consider joining social support groups for people who have thyroid eye disease. Being around others who have the same condition can help you learn new coping strategies. It can also help you feel less alone or isolated.

Ask your doctor about: 

  • Local support groups
  • Online communities
  • Patient advocacy organizations

Stress is a common issue that social groups may alleviate. Both online and in-person groups may help you by providing support during stressful times. 

Practical

Putting together the right health team to help you manage thyroid eye disease is a crucial part of living with the condition. Most people with thyroid eye disease need to see specialists in addition to their primary care doctor. You may end up with a large team that includes a:

  • Primary care physician
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Endocrinologist
  • Internist
  • Surgeon

It is important that all the members of your health team have experience treating thyroid eye disease. You should feel comfortable getting a second opinion or finding new doctors if you feel that you are not getting the best care possible. 

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Article Sources
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  1. American Thyroid Association. Graves’ eye disease.

  2. Wang Y, Sharma A, Padnick-Silver L, et al. Physician-perceived impact of thyroid eye disease on patient quality of life in the United States. Ophthalmol Ther. 2021;10(1):75-87. doi:10.1007/s40123-020-00318-x

  3. National Institutes of Health: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Graves' disease. Updated September 2017.

  4. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Thyroid eye disease

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is Graves’ disease? Updated December 1, 2020.