Thyroid Eye Disease: Why See a Specialist?

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Thyroid eye disease (TED), also referred to as Graves’ eye disease or Graves’ ophthalmopathy, is a condition associated with an overactive or underactive thyroid gland, although some people have thyroid eye disease independent of their thyroid function. This disease occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks the cells behind your eyes, causing irritation or grittiness in the eyes, redness, light sensitivity, excessive tearing or dry eyes, double vision, and sometimes even physical changes that push the eyes forward so they look like they’re bulging. Fortunately, these symptoms can often be effectively managed with the right care. This condition affects everyone differently, though, which is why all thyroid eye disease patients should follow unique treatment plans tailored to their specific needs. But your primary care doctor will not have all the information you need to manage your thyroid eye disease successfully. That’s where specialists come in. While you’ll want to see a thyroid expert–an endocrinologist–to manage your thyroid disorder, treating your thyroid won’t effectively treat thyroid eye disease. A thyroid eye disease specialist, called an ophthalmologist, has the right skills and insight to help you stay in control of your condition. Here’s why:

1. An ophthalmologist completes extensive training in thyroid eye disease and is an expert in thyroid eye disease care.

An ophthalmologist is a physician who specializes in treating diseases related to the eyes and vision. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors, unlike their optometrist and optician counterparts. Because the eyes are complex structures, ophthalmologists must train extensively to master this area of study. An ophthalmologist will have expertise in treating thyroid eye disease and other conditions related to your eyes and vision.

All doctors complete a training program called a residency after they finish medical school. At the end of an ophthalmology residency, graduates can sit for written and oral examinations to become board-certified ophthalmologists. Those ophthalmologists who specialize in managing patients with thyroid eye disease receive considerable training beyond that. These subspecialists spend several additional years in a fellowship, during which they train under experienced ophthalmologists and focus on patients with thyroid eye disease and similar conditions affecting the eyes. Look for a doctor who is board certified in ophthalmology and you’ll know you’re seeing an expert.

2. An ophthalmologist never stops learning about thyroid eye disease.

To maintain their board certifications, ophthalmologists must keep up with new developments in their field. They must complete continuing education and renew their licenses every few years, depending on the state in which they practice and other factors. By following these requirements, board-certified ophthalmologists stay on top of research discoveries and treatment advances, like a new injection that can help patients ease symptoms and reverse changes to their appearance. Armed with this knowledge, they can then provide their patients with insightful, informed, and up-to-date treatment plans. 

3. An ophthalmologist has extensive experience in treating thyroid eye disease.

Ophthalmologists see a higher volume and concentration of patients with thyroid eye disease, and thus are more experienced in treating the condition successfully. Because of this experience, they can add real-world knowledge of the disease to their academic and clinical training. They’re able to assess how well patients respond to certain treatments, have a deeper understanding of how thyroid eye disease progresses over time, share insight about effectively implementing lifestyle changes, and recognize symptoms that a general practitioner may miss, among other skills. 

4. An ophthalmologist is a team player.

Ophthalmologists work with teams of other health care providers who treat patients with thyroid eye disease and can connect patients with optometrists, vision therapists, endocrinologists, psychotherapists, and other providers who support thyroid eye disease management. Working with a team can help patients address all aspects of the disease and improve outcomes.

5. It’s easy to find the right ophthalmologist for you.

There are thousands of ophthalmologists in the United States, so how do you know which is the right doctor for you? By searching on Healthgrades.com, you can identify the best ophthalmologist to help you manage your thyroid eye disease successfully.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 May 7
  1. Graves’ Eye Disease. American Thyroid Association. https://www.thyroid.org/graves-eye-disease/
  2. Thyroid Eye Disease. Prevent Blindness. https://www.preventblindness.org/thyroid-eye-disease
  3. Thyroid Eye Disease. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17558-thyroid-eye-disease
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