Can you find the panda? If you had a problem trying to find the panda bear in a sea of smiling snowmen, you’re not alone. The newest picture to take over the cyber universe is an Where’s Waldo-type puzzle that is straining everyone’s eyes and testing their eyesight, but did you know that your eyesight may be compromised if you have a thyroid disorder?
Picture by Gergely Dudas aka Dudolf
The thyroid disorder that can cause problems with the eyes is known as Graves’ disease. Grave’s disease is an autoimmune disease which forces the thyroid into a hyper state, over-producing the thyroid hormones. This happens because the immune system begins releasing an antibody that mimics the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), a hormone released by the pituitary gland to instruct the thyroid to make the proper hormones. With the fake TSH and the actual TSH telling the thyroid to produce hormones, it goes into overdrive leaving the individual with hyperthyroidism.
Graves’ disease is characterized by many symptoms which include,
- Heat intolerance
- Weight loss
- Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
- Rapid/irregular heartbeat
- Increased appetite
- Change in menstrual cycles
- Erectile dysfunction or reduced libido
The most common symptom, however, is the protrusion or bulging of the eyes. The eyes become a target to the autoimmune disease which attacks the eye muscles and connective tissue within the eye socket leading to swelling/inflammation and scarring. Symptoms associated with Graves’ disease, as it pertains to the eyes, is from the swollen tissue and includes excessive watering, light sensitivity, redness, and eyelid swelling. This is different and more severe than the eye symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism (eyelid spasms and mild eye bulge) and is known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
The protrusion of the eye can cause even more problems because it can stretch the optic nerve leading to altered vision (blurriness, color blindness). Because the swelling may affect the muscles, the individual can experience eye soreness and fatigue, as well as an inability to move the eyes in different directions. If not treated properly, the vision impairment could be permanent.
While the conditions may be simultaneous, the eye problem is not a result of the hyper function of the thyroid, but rather of the underlying autoimmune condition which affects both tissues of the thyroid gland and of the eyes.
If you had a problem finding the panda, don’t worry, many people did, but if you have experienced any of the symptoms above, make sure to speak with your doctor about the possibility of Graves’ disease and what you can do about it.