Exophthalmos is a condition characterized by bulging of the eyeball anteriorly out of the orbit. Such a type of condition can either be bilateral or unilateral in nature.
Signs and symptoms of exophthalmos vary with the underlying condition. When thyroid diseases are the causative factor, then the following signs and symptoms are evident :
In addition, to the above mentioned symptoms, individuals would also experience double vision. In severe cases, it almost gets impossible to close eyes during sleeping, which eventually leads to dryness of the cornea, making it susceptible to infections and development of ulcers.
A preliminary examination of the eye would be carried out to evaluate the disorder. This would be followed by examination with exophthalmometer, which would measure the extent of protrusion of the eyes. In addition, imaging studies such as CT scan and MRI would also be useful. The abnormal deposition of connective tissues in the eyes for people with Graves disease can be detected through CT scan or MRI examination .
Blood tests would also be required to determine the underlying disease condition that is causing exophthalmos. Individuals, who have developed exophthalmos as a result of orbital cellulitis, should get complete blood count, nasal cultures, blood culture tests and sinus imaging studies as part of diagnosis evaluation .
Correcting the underlying disease condition that is causing exophthalmos forms the basis of the treatment regime. The following methods are employed for treating the eye condition:
Prognosis of the condition is pretty favorable, if treatment is initiated at the right time. However, failure to do so can cause severe complications to set in. Untreated exophthalmos can cause corneal dryness and superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis. In many instances, the optic nerve in the affected eye can also get compressed causing blindness. Many individuals also suffer from long term vision problems such as development of double vision.
Several factors are responsible for causation of exophthalmos. Various infections or inflammatory disease conditions such as Graves disease, mucormycosis, orbital cellulitis, Erdheim-Chester disease, orbital pseudotumor, Eegner’s granulomatosis, and high altitude cerebral edema play major role in development of exophthalmos. In addition to these, disease conditions that cause exophthalmos include dermoid cyst, leukemia, hemangioma, meningioma, Hand-Schuler-Christian disease and nasopharyngeal angiofibroma.
It has been estimated that, every year exophthalmos occurs in about 2.9 cases per 100,000 populations in men and affects about 16 women per 100,000 populations. The condition can affect adults and children at any age. Women in the age group of 30 to 50 years are at increased risk of falling prey to thyroid orbitopathy .
Exophthalmos is also sometimes referred to as protopsis. Inflammatory response, infections, neoplasia, and several traumatic factors favor the development of protopsis.
Individuals with Graves disease are more prone to contract such a type of eye condition with increased chances of developing the bilateral form . In Graves disease, bulging of the eyes occurs due to abnormal deposition of connective tissue in the extraocular muscles as well as the orbit. Such a type of deposition causes displacement of the eye, which presents as if the eyes are protruded from their original position.
Unilateral exophthalmos occurs in patients with orbital tumor. There have been cases, when there is complete dislocation from the orbit; this primarily occurs due to trauma which in turn induces swelling in the tissues surrounding the orbit.
In individuals with thyroid disease, the phenomenon of exophthalmos primarily occurs due to inflammatory reactions of the orbital tissues, which triggers the deposition of glycoaminoglycans in the orbit. With such sequence of events, fibrosis can set in gradually .
There has been certain evidence suggesting a strong link between cigarette smoking and development of Graves disease. Therefore, avoiding smoking can go a long way in prevention of the disease. In addition, seeking prompt treatment for underlying disease condition can also prevent the onset of exophthalmos.
Bilateral exophthalmos is more commonly seen in individuals suffering from Graves disease . If the condition is left untreated, then it can lead to various complications due to improper shutting of eyes during sleep. Such a type of event can gradually cause corneal dryness and subsequently its damage. In addition to these conditions, untreated exophthalmos can also lead to development of superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis. In more severe cases, the condition can also lead to blindness.
Definition: Exophthalmos is a condition, wherein the eyes protrude due to certain disease conditions or inflammatory response to various factors. Such a type of eye disease can either be bilateral or unilateral in nature. The condition should be promptly treated to avoid onset of debilitating complications.
Cause: Graves disease and thyroid disease significantly increase the risk of developing exophthalmos. Other causes include orbital cellulitis, leukemia and neuroblastoma that cause the eyes to protrude out of the orbit.
Diagnosis: Diagnosis of exophthalmos involves physical examination of the eye to study the extent of eye movements. Thereafter, with the help of exophthalmometer, the extent of protrusion of eye is studied. In addition, blood tests to evaluate underlying disease conditions and imaging studies are done for conducting a detailed examination of the eye socket.
Treatment: Treatment of exophthalmos involves managing the underlying disease condition to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Medications such as corticosteroids are administered either orally or intravenously. Surgery is employed only when medications do not yield any positive outcome.