What causes exophthalmos and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Exophthalmos, also known as protruding or bulging eyes, is a condition that affects the appearance and function of the eyes. It can be caused by various factors, including thyroid eye disease, orbital inflammation, and other eye conditions. Understanding the causes and treatment options for exophthalmos is crucial for maintaining good eye health. In this article, we will explore the different causes of exophthalmos and discuss effective treatment methods.

Thyroid Eye Disease and Exophthalmos

One of the most common causes of exophthalmos is thyroid eye disease, also known as Graves’ disease. This autoimmune disorder affects the thyroid gland, leading to an overproduction of thyroid hormones. The excessive hormone levels can cause inflammation and swelling in the tissues surrounding the eyes, resulting in the protrusion of the eyes.

Thyroid eye disease can cause a range of symptoms in addition to exophthalmos, including eye swelling, redness, double vision, and eye discomfort. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms, as early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further complications.

Treatment Options for Thyroid Eye Disease

When it comes to treating exophthalmos caused by thyroid eye disease, the primary goal is to manage the underlying thyroid condition and reduce inflammation in the eye tissues. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medications to regulate your thyroid hormone levels and reduce inflammation. These medications can help alleviate the symptoms of thyroid eye disease, including exophthalmos.
  • Steroids: In some cases, corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and swelling around the eyes. Steroids can be administered orally, topically, or through injections, depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of exophthalmos, surgery may be necessary to correct the position of the eyes and improve their appearance. This can involve decompressing the eye socket or repositioning the eye muscles.

Orbital Inflammation and Exophthalmos

Exophthalmos can also be caused by orbital inflammation, which refers to the swelling and inflammation of the tissues within the eye socket. This condition can be a result of infections, trauma, or autoimmune disorders.

Orbital inflammation can cause the eyes to bulge forward, leading to exophthalmos. Other symptoms may include pain, redness, and limited eye movement. Prompt medical attention is crucial to determine the underlying cause and initiate appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options for Orbital Inflammation

The treatment of exophthalmos caused by orbital inflammation depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Antibiotics: If the orbital inflammation is caused by an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to eliminate the infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and inflammation in the eye socket.
  • Immune-suppressing medication: In cases where orbital inflammation is caused by an autoimmune disorder, medications that suppress the immune system may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and prevent further damage.
  • Surgery: In certain cases, surgery may be required to drain abscesses or remove any foreign objects causing inflammation in the eye socket.

It is important to note that the treatment options mentioned above are general guidelines, and the specific treatment plan will vary depending on the individual case. It is essential to consult with an ophthalmologist or eye specialist for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment approach.


Exophthalmos, or protruding eyes, can be caused by various factors, including thyroid eye disease and orbital inflammation. Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial for managing this condition and preventing further complications. If you experience any symptoms of exophthalmos, such as eye swelling or bulging, it is important to seek medical attention. Your doctor will be able to determine the underlying cause and recommend the most suitable treatment options, which may include medication, steroids, or surgery. Remember, early intervention is key to maintaining good eye health and preserving your vision.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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