Symptoms of Thyroid Eye Disease

Thyroid eye disease is a condition that develops if you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), caused by Graves’ disease. Other names for this condition are Graves’ eye disease, Graves’ orbitopathy, and Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

Thyroid eye disease happens because the immune system attacks tissues and muscles around your eyes.

The symptoms of thyroid eye disease can vary from person to person, and they can also range from mild to severe. Some people experience worsening symptoms over time while others do not have this type of disease progression.

Young woman checking her eye in the mirror

Jose Luis Pelaez / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms

If you have thyroid eye disease, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Not everyone has all of these eye symptoms. You should always discuss any changes in your symptoms with a doctor.

Thyroid eye disease symptoms usually last one to two years. This is called the active stage of the disease, and you may have:

  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Tissue changes in the eyes

When the disease stops progressing, it is called the inactive phase.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Protruding or bulging eyes 
  • Dry, red, sensitive, and irritated eyes
  • Vision changes
  • Eyelids retracting
  • Pain or pressure in the eyes 
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Double or blurred vision 
  • Bags around the eyes 
  • Problems moving the eyes 
  • Watery eyes 

Your symptoms may stay the same or get worse over time. Some people see an improvement in their symptoms. 

symptoms of thyroid eye disease

 Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Thyroid Eye Disease and Hyperthyroidism

You may have signs of thyroid eye disease at the same time as you are experiencing other symptoms of hyperthyroidism. It is rare for thyroid eye disease to appear after hyperthyroidism has been treated.

Rare Symptoms

If thyroid eye disease continues to get worse, it is possible for more severe and rare symptoms to develop. This happens because of ongoing damage to the eye tissues.

The symptoms include:

  • Serious problems moving the eyes and eyelids
  • Headaches that get worse with eye movement 
  • Incomplete closure of the eyes  
  • Corneal ulceration  
  • Optic nerve compression and optic neuropathy
  • Vision loss

Complications

If you develop a corneal ulcer (open sore) because of thyroid eye disease, it can cause scarring and may lead to losing your vision permanently. Talk to your doctor and get treatment for a corneal ulcer right away to avoid potential vision loss.

Another possible complication is damage to the optic nerve from the swollen eye muscles compressing it. This can also lead to vision loss. Talk to your doctor right away if you suspect you have optic nerve problems.

Thyroid eye disease may lead to scarring (fibrosis) and eye tissue changes over time. This can affect how the eyes look. 

When to See a Doctor or Go to the Hospital 

If you have symptoms that could indicate thyroid eye disease, you should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis can lead to faster treatments that may help you avoid some of the potential complications of the disease.

Even if you have already received a thyroid eye disease diagnosis, you should notify your doctor of any changes in symptoms. It is important to keep monitoring your condition, so your doctor can adjust treatments.  

In general, you should notify your doctor if you notice any changes in the appearance of your eyes or have problems seeing. 

Seek Urgent Medical Care 

You should seek immediate medical help if you have the following: 

  • Bleeding from the eyes or eyelids
  • Sudden decrease in vision or sudden blindness
  • Problems moving the eyes
  • Any injuries or trauma to the eyes or eyelids 

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that thyroid eye disease symptoms can vary, so you may not have all of them. In addition, symptoms can come and go, which means your experience may be different. Keep in mind that the active stage of the disease can also vary in time. 

Some of the symptoms of thyroid eye disease are similar to the ones seen in other medical conditions. This is why you should always tell a doctor about all of your symptoms and any changes you experience over time. 

Treating and managing hyperthyroidism may help you avoid some of the symptoms of thyroid eye disease. Discuss your treatment options with a doctor, and get a second opinion if you feel it is necessary. You should feel comfortable having an open conversation about your symptoms with the doctor. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Organization for Rare Disorders. Thyroid eye disease. Updated 2020.

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

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

  4. American Thyroid Association. Graves’ eye disease