Many people with an over active thyroid gland caused by Graves’ disease develop what is known as eye signs (Graves’ ophthalmopathy). Early symptoms can include redness, dryness, itching, a gritty feeling, swelling of the eyelids and an inability to wear contact lenses. Symptoms can be especially bad at night, in air conditioned buildings and during windy days.

The eyes appear to be slightly bulging because of spasms of the muscles of the lids, giving them a staring appearance. Around half of people with Graves’ disease only experience relatively mild symptoms, but another half develops more severe eye disease.

The more severe version of thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disease of the eye socket and eye muscles in which there is inflammation, swelling and eventual scarring. The immune system attacks the eyes and surrounding muscles. It occurs most often in people with Graves’ disease but can also occur in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and thyroid cancer.

There are two phases of thyroid eye disease:

  1. Active inflammation and swelling. The eyes are red and inflamed, the lids are swollen and the eyes are “poppy”; this is medically referred to as proptosis. The eyes are usually quite uncomfortable and ache, especially during the night.
  2. The muscles that move the eyes start to scar and malfunction. This occurs after the symptoms in phase one start to resolve. The upper eyelid often sits up too high (retracts) and that can produce double vision.

In either phase the eyes can feel irritated, like there is something inside them and the vision can be blurry.

Treatment of Thyroid Eye Disease

The irritation can be relieved by lubricating eye drops. Redness and aching can be relieved by the use of a cold compress over the eyes; this is available from pharmacies. Since symptoms tend to be worse at night, some people find that elevating the head of the bed with a brick can give some symptom relief.

During phase one when there is a lot of inflammation and swelling, oral steroids like prednisone are often given. This can reduce the swelling and pain. Steroids cannot be used for long periods of time because they have side effects, such as weight gain, indigestion and a worsening of restlessness, which is also a symptom of Graves’ disease. Some people require radiotherapy if the swelling is very bad.

During phase two when there is scarring, some people need surgery to lower the upper eyelid if it is abnormally raised. Surgery can reduce the “poppyness” of the eyes and also can fix the double vision if the eye muscles are moved.

Thyroid eye disease is most common in people with an overactive thyroid gland caused by Graves’ disease. The Graves’ disease is quickly treated by reducing thyroid hormone levels but unfortunately this doesn’t help the eye disease much. For many people, thyroid eye disease becomes a long term problem; the inflammation and swelling pass but around a third of people are left with continual dryness, irritation and sensitivity.

Thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disease and it must be supported like all autoimmune diseases: a change in diet, supporting the digestion, liver and immune system.

Here are my tips for helping to resolve thyroid eye conditions:

  • Overcoming autoimmune disease involves healing a leaky gut. When the gut becomes excessively permeable (leaky), toxins and wastes in the gut are allowed to enter the bloodstream. This places an enormous burden on the immune system and liver. If you want to heal a leaky gut, you need to stop eating foods that irritate and inflame the gut; these include grains, (particularly gluten containing ones), dairy products, legumes and sugar. Some people need to restrict other foods as well.
  • People with a leaky gut typically suffer with an overgrowth of harmful microbes in their gut. Bad bacteria, Candida and other organisms can inflame your gut lining and steal your nutrients from you, leaving you malnourished. Intestinal Para Cleanse capsules can help to give your gut a good clean up. Glutamine is wonderful for healing a leaky gut; it is the preferred fuel source for intestinal cells, therefore helps to heal and seal the gut lining. Glutamine can be found in my Ultimate Gut Health powder.
  • Anyone with an autoimmune disease experiences high levels of inflammation in their body. Inflammatory chemicals produce symptoms such as fatigue, pain, swelling, redness or loss of function. A lot of these inflammatory chemicals are made in the liver, particularly if the liver is stressed due to poor digestion and poor diet. The herb St Mary’s thistle, found in Livatone Plus helps to reduce the liver’s production of inflammatory chemicals.
  • In my experience, most people with thyroid problems or autoimmune conditions don’t have optimum levels of vitamin D or selenium in their body. These two nutrients are wonderful for calming down inflammation and can help to reduce the auto-antibody production seen in autoimmune conditions.
  • Drinking raw vegetable juices regularly is a wonderful way to strengthen your immune system and cleanse your liver. Dark green leafy vegetables and fresh herbs are particularly beneficial. It is good to base your juice on vegetables, and only add a little fruit for flavour. There are many juice recipes in the book Raw Juices Can Save Your Life.

For additional information on helping thyroid conditions see the book Your Thyroid Problems Solved.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.