Eyes that bulge, or protrude out of their normal position, could be a sign
of a serious medical condition. Proptosis and exophthalmos are
the medical terms used to describe bulging eyes. While some people are born
with eyes that protrude more than normal, others develop them as a result of an
underlying medical condition.
In most cases, the white part of your eye shouldn’t be visible above your iris
without lifting your eyelid. Your iris is the colored part of your eye.
If the white of your eye shows between your iris and your upper eyelid, it may
be a sign of abnormal bulging. Your recommended treatment plan will depend on
the underlying cause of your eye bulging.
Sudden bulging of only one eye is an emergency; seek medical
attention immediately. It may be a sign of a serious medical problem.
of bulging eyes
The most common cause of bulging eyes is hyperthyroidism, or
an overactive thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is located in the front of your
neck. It releases several hormones that help control your metabolism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid releases too many of these hormones.
An autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease is
the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and bulging eyes. In this condition, tissues
around your eye become inflamed. This creates the bulging effect. Anyone can develop
Graves’ disease. Women in their 20s and 30s are at highest risk of the
condition, reports the Office
on Women’s Health.
Other potential causes of bulging eyes include:
- neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that can affect your
sympathetic nervous system
- leukemia, a type of cancer that can affect your white
- rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that can develop in
your soft tissues
- lymphoma, most often non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- orbital cellulitis, an infection that can affect the
tissues around your eye
- hemangioma, an abnormal collection of blood vessels
- bleeding behind your eye caused by injury
- metastatic tumors from a cancer elsewhere in the body
- connective tissue diseases such as sarcoidosis
the cause of bulging eyes
If you develop eye bulging in one or both eyes, make an appointment with
your doctor as soon as possible. Be prepared to share your complete medical
history with them, including a list of any prescription or over-the-counter
medications and supplements that you take. They’ll also want to know the
specifics of your symptoms, such as:
- When did you first notice that your eyes were bulging?
- Have they gotten worse since that time?
- Do you have any other symptoms, especially headaches or
After conducting a physical exam, your doctor may order one or more tests. For
example, these may include:
- vision test
- dilated eye exam
- slit-lamp exam, during which your doctor will use a
low-power microscope and high-intensity light to examine the structures at
the front of your eye
- imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans
- blood tests
for bulging eyes
Your recommended treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your
bulging eyes. For example, depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may
prescribe one or more of the following:
- eye drops
- corticosteroids to ease inflammation
- eye surgery
- surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation to treat cancerous tumors
If you’re diagnosed with Graves’ disease or another thyroid condition, your
doctor may recommend:
- medications, such as beta-blockers or antithyroid
- radioactive iodine or surgery to destroy or remove your
- replacement thyroid hormone if your thyroid gland has
been destroyed or removed
If you have eye problems associated with hyperthyroidism, smoking can make
them worse. Quitting may help to reduce your symptoms. Your doctor may
recommend a combination of prescription drugs, nicotine replacement therapy, or
counseling to help you quit smoking.
Bulging eyes may leave you feeling self-consciousness. Emotional support is
important to your well-being. Depending on the cause, you may be able to
correct the problem with treatment.