Proptosis, also known as exophthalmos, is the scientific name for bulging eyes. Specifically, proptosis describes when one or both eyes are bulging from the front out of the eye socket. What some people may not realize is proptosis is a description of a symptom — not a specific condition. Proptosis causes may include one of several underlying conditions. Recognizing the common signs of these conditions is the key to getting help.
Proptosis: Understanding What This Eye Condition Is All About
Symptoms of Proptosis
“Bulging” eyes may seem like an obvious symptom to diagnose. But in cases where the problem develops over time, it can be difficult to tell if your eyes themselves are actually changing. After all, sometimes weight loss or age can narrow your face. That loss of fatty tissue around your cheeks and under your eyes can gradually make your eyes appear more prominent.
It’s easier to tell right away if there’s a problem if you develop a form of unilateral proptosis — most people don’t have one eye that’s more prominent than the other unless there’s a medical reason.
But whether or not it’s obvious to tell if your bulging eyes are a symptom of proptosis, it helps to keep other symptoms related to proptosis conditions in mind. Some of these possible symptoms include:
- Vision problems. You may have more trouble seeing, depending on what is causing your bulging eyes.
- Headaches. Pressure on the nerves of your eye from an underlying growth can cause headaches, as can straining your eyes when your vision is compromised.
- More visible white in your eye. If your eyes seem suddenly rounder and bigger, it’s because the sclera (white part) of your eye is being revealed more than it normally would be.
- Retracted lid. As the whites of your eyes are more revealed, your upper or lower eyelids can appear to be higher (upper lid) or lower (lower lid) than normal.
- Trouble moving your eyes. If you see something out of the corner of your eye but it feels like a bit of an effort to move it, this could be the sign of one of the conditions that cause proptosis.
- Trouble closing your eyes. This issue will be most obvious when you’re trying to sleep but even the involuntary blinks you normally do every day seem to be “sticky.”
- Dry eyes. Proptosis causes a lack of moisture in the cornea, the transparent outer layer of your eye. Your eyes could begin to feel overly dry and itchy.
- Pain or discomfort. Pressure from your eye socket can lead to increasing discomfort as your proptosis progresses. How much pain you feel depends on the underlying disorder and where it is occurring in the eye area.
Which Health Issues Cause Bulging Eyes?
For people with bilateral (both eyes) proptosis, the underlying problem can be a range of conditions. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of bilateral proptosis. An overactive thyroid causes this disorder.
Unilateral (one eye) proptosis allows doctors to narrow down the underlying causes a bit. That’s because conditions like Graves’ disease affect both eyes. Growths near the eye socket are often the cause of unilateral proptosis, whether it’s a tumor, fistula, or an infection in the sinus cavity. Sometimes both eyes can be affected.
One of the ways in which an eye doctor can determine if proptosis exists — and if so how pronounced the bulge is — is by using an exophthalmometer. This proptosis measurement device determines the extent of your eye protrusion. A measurement of 18 mm or greater usually indicates proptosis.
What is the Proptosis Treatment?
If your proptosis has a serious underlying cause, it can almost always be treated, or at least monitored for now. Your ophthalmologist will prescribe medication or refer you to a specialist.
Graves’ disease, for example, can often be treated with anti-thyroid medications, iodine, or beta blockers. Some people need surgery on the thyroid itself if medications don’t work.
Proptosis causes such as infection can be treated with antibiotics. On the other hand, corticosteroids can treat edema-like problems causing the bulging. More serious proptosis cases may require surgery to remove tumors or to make more room by removing fatty tissue.
Try these eye exercises in this video by gravesdiseasecure if you have proptosis:
Never hesitate to make an appointment with your eye doctor, even if you’re not sure if your bulging eyes are your imagination! Ultimately, there’s no substitute for a professional evaluation by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. He or she can perform proptosis measurements and determine proptosis treatment.
Do you know someone with proptosis? What medications did he/she take? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!