Fixing Bulging Eyes

BACKGROUND: The thyroid gland manages the rate of metabolism through thyroid hormones. In Graves' disease patients, an abnormal immune system response causes the thyroid gland to produce too many hormones. This causes side effects like weight loss, trouble sleeping, nervousness, irritability, heavy sweating, heat sensitivity, racing heart, tremors and muscular weakness. This uncommon disease affects 2 percent of all women at some time in their lives, according to the National Women's Health Information Center. It tends to affect women between the ages of 20 and 40.

A UNIQUE SYMPTOM: Graves' disease is the only type of hyperthyroidism that leads to eye inflammation and swelling of the tissues around the eyes. This often causes bulging of the eyes, also called Graves' ophthalmopathy. According to the American Thyroid Association, the cause of these eye symptoms is unknown. Other eye symptoms associated with Graves' disease include burning, gritty, irritated eyes that frequently water; double vision; decreased vision; redness and swelling of the thing layer covering the white part of the eye; and difficulty closing the eyelids while sleeping.

TREATMENT: Often, controlling Graves' disease itself doesn't resolve eye problems. For advanced eye symptoms treatments like steroid medications, radiation or surgery may offer relief. To correct double vision, surgery to reposition the eye muscles is recommended only after the disease stabilizes. Surgical orbital decompression is sometimes recommended for patient with extreme symptoms. This procedure relieves pressure on the optic nerve. Other procedures make room in the eye socket for swollen tissue. Steroid medications and radiation can reduce inflammation associated with the disease.

Standard treatments don't always address the physical problem of protruding eyes. This symptom can severely alter a patient's appearance and consequently, his or her self-confidence. One new procedure that targets the cosmetic aspect of Graves' ophthalmopathy is a gel called Restalyne. The gel was first approved by the FDA for the treatment of facial wrinkles and folds. Restalyne is made of hyaluronic acid, a natural substance found in all living organisms. It works by temporarily adding volume to facial tissue, smoothing the face. The effect lasts about 6 months. In Graves' disease patients, the gel works by filling out tissue around the eyes to reduce the bulging effect.

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