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Eyes that bulge, or protrude out of their normal position, could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Proptosis and exophthalmos are the medical terms used to describe bulging eyes. While some people are born with eyes that protrude more than normal, others develop them as a result of an underlying medical condition.
In most cases, the white part of your eye shouldn’t be visible above your iris without lifting your eyelid. Your iris is the colored part of your eye. If the white of your eye shows between your iris and your upper eyelid, it may be a sign of abnormal bulging. Your recommended treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your eye bulging.
Sudden bulging of only one eye is an emergency; seek medical attention immediately. It may be a sign of a serious medical problem.
The most common cause of bulging eyes is hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck. It releases several hormones that help control your metabolism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid releases too many of these hormones.
An autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and bulging eyes. In this condition, tissues around your eye become inflamed. This creates the bulging effect. Anyone can develop Graves’ disease. Women in their 20s and 30s are at highest risk of the condition, reports the Office on Women’s Health.
Other potential causes of bulging eyes include:
If you develop eye bulging in one or both eyes, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Be prepared to share your complete medical history with them, including a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medications and supplements that you take. They’ll also want to know the specifics of your symptoms, such as:
After conducting a physical exam, your doctor may order one or more tests. For example, these may include:
Your recommended treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your bulging eyes. For example, depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following:
If you’re diagnosed with Graves’ disease or another thyroid condition, your doctor may recommend:
If you have eye problems associated with hyperthyroidism, smoking can make them worse. Quitting may help to reduce your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend a combination of prescription drugs, nicotine replacement therapy, or counseling to help you quit smoking.
Bulging eyes may leave you feeling self-consciousness. Emotional support is important to your well-being. Depending on the cause, you may be able to correct the problem with treatment.
Written by: Ann Pietrangelo
Medically reviewed on: Nov 01, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD
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