Eye diseases are not the only conditions that can have a negative effect on our eyes. Sometimes other diseases and disorders in the body can cause problems for our vision. Today, we’re taking a look at how a thyroid condition may affect your eyes.
What Is the Thyroid and What Does It Do?
We can all deduce that a thyroid problem causes involuntary weight fluctuations. But can anyone really say what a thyroid does on a good day? Probably not.
Our thyroids get a bad rap, but when they’re performing at their best, they actually do quite a lot for us. It’s just human nature to remember the negatives over the positives.
The thyroid is an organ that is located at the base of your neck. It has a sort of butterfly shape to it and has “wings” (or lobes, rather) on either side of the spinal column. In some, the cartilage of the thyroid is much more pronounced. This is actually what causes an Adam’s Apple.
The thyroid is a tiny organ, coming in at only two inches long. However, less is more in this case. The thyroid is mainly in charge of regulating hormones in the body. Which then by extension, helps to regulate some of the body’s most crucial functions such as:
- Menstrual cycle
- Heart rate
- Body temperature
- Cholesterol levels
Despite popular belief, when someone is suffering from a thyroid problem, it doesn’t just cause frequent body weight fluctuations. It can affect any one of these bodily functions.
The thyroid uses iodine that has been consumed by you to store hormones in its little two-inch organ. The hormones are then released into the bloodstream as necessary to various parts and cells in the body.
The thyroid releases two types of hormones (T3 and T4). When the body is in need of more or less of these two hormones, the brain will send out another hormone called thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). This hormone alerts the thyroid that there is an imbalance in the T3 and T4 hormones.
When the two thyroid hormones are not balanced, they can cause lots of trouble for your body.
When T3 and T4 levels are too high it can lead to various symptoms including:
- Hair loss
- Shaking (most notably in the hands)
- Unusual menstrual cycles
- Excessive sweating (sensitivity to hot temperatures)
When T3 and T4 levels are too low they can lead to:
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
- Muscle or joint pain
- Dryness (skin and hair)
- Difficulty sleeping
Often these imbalances stem from poor communication between the brain and the thyroid. This is when weight gain begins. Thyroid problems are often associated with weight gain, but can be linked to numerous other hormone related issues, as you can see above.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about checking for a possible thyroid issue.
Graves’ Disease or Thyroid Eye Disease
Graves’ disease, otherwise sometimes referred to as thyroid eye disease, is a condition that affects the eye and is caused by an existing thyroid problem. This is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s own immune system is attacking the thyroid gland.
To counter this attack, the thyroid then begins to produce too many hormones. This results in the aforementioned symptoms.
The eyes are in particular danger when Graves’ disease is present because the immune system will attack the eye muscle tissue. The connective tissues in the eye contain a similar protein to that found in the thyroid. The immune system is essentially mistaking the eye muscles for the thyroid gland.
When the eye muscles are attacked, it causes the tissue around the eyes to swell and become inflamed. This can lead to several other symptoms:
- Eye and eyelid pain
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Extreme dry eye
- Bulging eyes
When the swelling progresses, it can cause the pressure in the eye to worsen. This can then lead to eye strain, painful headaches made worse with eye movements, optic nerve damage, and eventual vision loss. But, however bad the symptoms get, patients with Graves’ disease rarely lose all of their vision.
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Treating Graves’ disease is not as simple or quick as anyone would hope. A logical treatment would be to treat the thyroid problem effectively and, like the domino effect, the Grave’s disease will go away on its own.
This is not the case, unfortunately. Though a thyroid problem may be the cause of Graves’ disease, both diseases travel their own paths. They are completely separate, so that curing one will not cure the other.
Instead, treatment for Graves’ disease can last up to three years. During these three years, you would be put on certain types of medication. The type of medication varies from patient to patient. It all depends on what symptoms you’re having. Your eye doctor and general physician will then closely monitor your eyes while on this medication.
After that comes a second phase which often includes surgery. During the remission phase of the treatment (after the three years), your doctor will work on correcting otherwise uncorrectable vision problems. Sometimes the only treatment available for these corrections is surgery.
However, it is important to really consider the risks of surgery before jumping into it. Though surgery may provide an immediate fix, the disease may always come back and cause the same damage as before.
The thyroid may be associated mainly with our body’s weight, but it can affect other parts of the body too, especially when the thyroid comes under attack. The thyroid is an essential cog in the hormonal machine that keeps us stable. Without it, we’d be all over the place.
So, pay attention to the signs and talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have a thyroid problem. It’s always best to stay ahead of the game to prevent any avoidable vision-harming conditions.