Bulging eyes are sometimes a sign of serious medical concerns, though they may also just be the way an individual's eyes are shaped. It is a cause for concern if the eyes are bulging more than they have before. Bulging eyes protrude from their usual position in the skull. Some of the medical terms used for this condition include exophthalmos and proptosis. For the most part, the white portion of the eye above the iris shouldn't be visible unless an individual lifts their eyelid. Seeing the white between the eyelid and iris can be a sign the eyes are bulging abnormally. The patient's doctor will create a treatment plan depending on what is causing the eye-bulging. If only one eye bulges suddenly, this is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment.
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Hyperthyroidism is the most common condition that leads to bulging eyes. This condition occurs when the thyroid gland, located at the front of the neck, is overactive. It produces multiple hormones that help with regulating metabolism and mood. When the thyroid produces too many of these hormones, it causes metabolic imbalances referred to as hyperthyroidism. There are multiple symptoms of hyperthyroidism. The most drastic tends to be unintentional weight loss, which occurs because the body's metabolism speeds up. It's also common for hyperthyroidism patients to experience an irregular or rapid heartbeat. There are several treatments available for hyperthyroidism, including radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medications to slow thyroid hormone production. Some patients also undergo surgery that removes part or all of the thyroid gland to help stop the overproduction of hormones. The condition is very manageable when it's properly diagnosed and treated, though ignoring it can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications. Getting a diagnosis is also sometimes difficult since the symptoms can mimic a variety of other health issues.
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Bulging eyes due to Graves' disease, the leading cause of hyperthyroidism, are called Graves' ophthalmopathy. The protrusion happens because the muscles and tissues behind the eyes swell. The eye problems sometimes improve without needing treatment, but they can be a sign of undiagnosed Graves' disease. In addition to protruding eyeballs, the most common symptoms of this condition are redness and swelling of the eyes, dry eyes, excessive discomfort or tearing in one or both eyes, blurry or double vision, reduced movement of the eyes, inflammation, and light sensitivity. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means it occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. This particular disease causes the immune system to attack the thyroid, which leads the thyroid gland to create an overproduction of hormones. Graves' disease can lead to issues with fertility, the menstrual cycle, the muscles, the bones, and the heart if untreated.
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Orbital cellulitis occurs when the soft tissues inside the eye socket become infected. If the infection isn't treated, it can cause permanent loss of vision and potentially life-threatening complications. The condition can occur in individuals of any age, but it is most common in young children. This infection develops behind the thin membrane covering the front of the eyeball, otherwise known as the orbital septum. When infections occur in front of the orbital septum instead of behind it, the condition is called periorbital or preseptal cellulitis. As the infection progresses, it can cause serious inflammation that pushes the eyeball from its usual place in the socket. The most common symptoms are swelling, pain, and protrusion of the eyes. Patients might also experience symptoms that often accompany infections like loss of appetite, fatigue, and a fever. Their eye may appear red and swollen, and it might be difficult to open it as well.
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An eye injury can sometimes lead to bulging eyes, though the exact type of injury can vary widely from case to case. Similarly, the severity of the bulging and the prognosis will also vary. Bulging is sometimes caused by bleeding into the space behind the eyes, and the increased pressure leads the eyes to protrude forward. There are several common eye injuries, some of which may lead to bulging, some of which might not. If individuals suspect they have an infection or internal bleeding caused by an injury, they should see a doctor right away. If one eye suddenly bulges, this could be a sign of internal bleeding, and it requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Some eye injuries, particularly deep puncture wounds, need to be treated with emergency surgery to make sure patients don't suffer permanent vision loss. Some injuries are less severe, though, such as minor scratches. After having the injury evaluated by an eye doctor to make sure it isn't serious, patients will just need to monitor it to make sure they don't develop an infection.
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Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes inflammation throughout multiple organs. It most commonly affects the lymph glands and lungs, but it can also affect the eyes. Sarcoidosis patients have abnormal nodules called granulomas that form in masses inside certain organs. These inflamed tissues can alter the structure of the organs and potentially prevent them from functioning. Because different organs can be affected in different ways, how the disease presents is very unique from patient to patient. When the eyes are one of the affected organs, the granulomas can cause the eyes to protrude abnormally. Some of the initial symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, and a persistent dry cough. As the disease progresses, other symptoms may occur depending on the involved organs. These additional symptoms include enlargement of the lymph nodes, swollen and painful joints, an enlarged liver, and the formation of kidney stones.