The protruding or bulging of one or both eyeballs is called bulging eyes. It is also known scientifically as proptosis or exophthalmos. Such patients tend to blink less and it may even appear as if they are always staring.
This condition is not to be confused with other eye disorders that change the appearance of the face or eye without causing true bulging. Some of these disorders include Cushing’s disease, primary infantile glaucoma or extreme obesity.
How Can You Tell If You Have Bulging Eyes?
It is not easy to diagnose bulging eyes on your own, as it very easy to get confused by it with other medical conditions that cause swollen eyes. If you suspect one of both of your eyes are bulging, you should consult an ophthalmologist to get a medical opinion.
The ophthalmologist will ask you about your optical symptoms including how long these symptoms have been present and if there has been any change in severity of the symptoms. The ophthalmologist will then conduct a physical examination of your eyes to evaluate the agility of your eye movements. If there is any abnormality noted during these examinations, you may be recommended to undergo a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to further examine your eye sockets. Your ophthalmologist will also order a blood test to check if there is any abnormality in thyroid function. Based on a combination of these results, your ophthalmologist will determine if you have bulging eyes or if the doctor suspects another optical condition, in which case you will need further examination.
What is the Best Treatment for Bulging Eyes?
How do you treat bulging eyes? The treatment for bulging eyes depends mainly on what was the initial cause of the condition. If the bulging eyes were caused by thyroid eye disease, then the ophthalmologist will recommend the patient to consult an endocrinologist (a specialist for endocrine glands). The endocrinologist will first start the patient on a treatment course to normalize thyroid function and bring thyroid hormone back to normal levels. Treating the underlying cause of the disease is very important to prevent further deterioration of the eyes.
In the meantime, the ophthalmologist will start the patient on a treatment plan to correct the bulging eyes. This will first involve reducing the active inflammation around the eyes using anti-inflammatory medications. Generally, the patients are given an intravenous or intravitreol injection of corticosteroids that have a rapid therapeutic effect. In addition, the patients need to use artificial tears every couple of hours to keep the eyes lubricated and reduce dryness and irritation. Patients are also educated and advised to avoid smoking as it will aggravate their condition and slow down the recovery process. In many cases, unless a corrective surgery is performed the eye continues to appear protruded. Once the inflammation is under control, the ophthalmologist may recommend their patients to undergo such corrective surgical procedures to improve the aesthetics of their eyes. In many cases, the prolonged bulging of the eyes results in the patients developing double vision. Based on the severity, your ophthalmologist may either prescribe you special lenses or recommend you surgical correction of the double vision.
In those rare cases where the bulging eye was a result of cancerous tumors, the ophthalmologist will recommend the patient to consult an oncologist (a specialist to treat caners). The ophthalmologist will work with the oncologist to recommend the best treatment plan. Some of the factors to be taken into consideration include the stage of the cancerous growth, whether the cancer is benign (located in one area) or malignant (spread to other regions of the body), patient’s age, medical history and the presence of other medical complications. Possible treatment options could include starting the patient on anticancer medications, chemotherapy or radiotherapy and surgically removing the tumor.
In general, the prognosis is positive with a speedy recovery provided the condition is diagnosed and treated promptly.
- Mayo Clinic. Proptosis (bulging eyes). https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/proptosis/basics/definition/sym-20050892
- Thyroid Foundation of Canada. Thyroid Eye Disease (TED or Graves’ Eye Disease). https://thyroid.ca/thyroid-eye-disease/
- Mayo Clinic. Thyroidectomy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/thyroidectomy/about/pac-20385017
- MedlinePlus. Proptosis. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003030.htm