Exophthalmos is a condition in which the eye or eyes extend or bulge out of the eye socket, often giving the affected individual a startled appearance. Exophthalmos affects women more often than men, and is most common in individuals of European descent who are between the age of 40 and 70 years old. Exophthalmos may be caused by infection, inflammation, injury, tumors, vascular disorders, and other genetic disorders. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder characterized by elevated levels of thyroid hormone in the blood and is one of the most common causes of exophthalmos.
Symptoms seen in the eyes of individuals affected by exophthalmos include irritation, dryness, excessive tearing, and increased sensitivity to light. Diagnosis is made with tests to measure the movement of the eyes, the size and structure of the eye socket, and thyroid hormone levels in Grave’s disease. If untreated, complications of exophthalmos include corneal damage, permanent protrusion of the eyes, and severe irritation of the eyes. In severe cases, blindness may result from damage to the optic nerve.
Treatment for exophthalmos depends on the cause of the condition. Medications may be used to correct thyroid hormone levels in exophthalmos caused by Graves’ disease. Corticosteroids or radiation therapy may be used to reduce swelling and inflammation of the eye. Severe cases of exophthalmos may require surgery. If you or your child has been diagnosed with exophthalmos, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.