What causes bulging eyes or protruding eyeballs?

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Eye Health | Friday, September 09, 2016 - 12:00 PM

What causes bulging eyes or protruding eyeballs?Bulging eyes or protruding eyeballs – known as proptosis or exophthalmos – is often a sign of a serious medical condition. In a healthy individual, the white part of the eye is not visible over the iris. If the white part is showing between the iris and the eyelid, this is known as bulging eyeball.

In some cases, bulging eyeballs can be hereditary and in others, it could be caused by a medical condition. Treatment for protruding eyeballs depends on the cause.

Causes of bulging eyes

The most common cause of bulging eyes is hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). In this case, the thyroid gland produces too many hormones over a short period of time, and is usually accompanied by other health complications, too. Another cause for bulging eyes is Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disease and also a common cause of hyperthyroidism. In Grave’s disease, the tissue around the eyes becomes inflamed, creating a bulging effect. Women over the age of 20 are at the highest risk for Grave’s disease, although it can affect anyone.

Other causes of exophthalmos include:

  • Bleeding behind the eye due to injury
  • Glaucoma
  • Abnormal buildup of blood vessels beneath the skin
  • Histiocytosis
  • Leukemia
  • Neuroblastoma (nerve cell cancer)
  • Orbital cellulitis
  • Periorbital cellulitis
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma – cancerous tumor in the muscles attached to the bones
  • Vascular disorders

Symptoms of bulging eyes

The most obvious symptom of bulging eyes is a change in the appearance of the eyes. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Difficulty closing the eyes fully
  • Drying of the cornea
  • Discomfort
  • Scarring of the eye, which can lead to permanent vision loss
  • Difficulty with eye movement
  • Increase in the visibility of the sclera – the white part of the eye

Symptoms of bulging eyes can also relate to the underlying condition that has caused it. For example, if bulging eyes are due to hyperthyroidism you may also experience unexplained weight loss, changes in appetite, increased sweating, and frequent bowel movements such as diarrhea.

When to see a doctor for bulging eyes

There are a few questions you will want to ask your doctor about your bulging eyes. What caused it? What treatments are available? Are there any over-the-counter products that can reduce the appearance of bulging eyes? What prevention tips can I follow to ensure the condition doesn’t worsen?

You should see a doctor for bulging eyes as soon as you spot the changes to your eyes, especially if you have noticed other changes in your overall health as well. The earlier you see your doctor, the sooner treatment can start, and the smaller the risk of complications will be.

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Related Reading:

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Scleritis (inflammation of the white of the eye) causes, symptoms, and treatment



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