Bulging eyes, or proptosis, occurs when one or both eyes protrude from the eye sockets due to space taking lesions such as swelling of the muscles, fat, and tissue behind the eye. This causes more of the cornea to be exposed to air, making it more difficult to keep eyes moist and lubricated. In extreme cases, bulging eyes can create a large amount of pressure on the optic nerve, potentially leading to vision loss.

Oftentimes prominent eyes are mistaken for bulging eyes. Prominent eyes are generally hereditary and in most cases are harmless. However, bulging eyes can be a different case, as they may be linked to a more serious condition.

What Causes Bulging Eyes?

Bulging eyes have been linked to a number of diseases and conditions, including glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, leukemia and more. Changes in the eye may develop slowly over time.

With children, especially, bulging in one eye could indicate a serious condition and should be seen by an eye care professional.

The most common cause of bulging eyes is Graves’ disease, or more specifically, Graves’ Ophthalmopathy – an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system produces an antibody to cells in the thyroid gland causing an overproduction of thyroid hormones. It appears that the same antibody that can cause thyroid dysfunction may also have an "attraction" to tissues surrounding the eyes causing the onset of Graves' Ophthalmopathy. When related to Graves' disease, you may hear the term exophthalmos used instead of bulging eyes.   

Symptoms of Bulging Eyes

Bulging eyes are usually a symptom of another condition. Symptoms of bulging eyes may include:

  • Appearance of protruding eyes
  • Excessive dryness in eyes
  • Visible whiteness between the top of the iris and the eyelid


Contact your eye care professional if they are unaware of your bulging eyes and/or if you have bulging eyes and experience:

  • Loss of vision
  • Double vision
  • Eye Pain
  • Eye redness
  • Headache
  • Feaver
  • Pulsation in bulging eye

Treatment for Bulging Eyes

The underlying cause of bulging eyes will determine the overall course of treatment. However, in all cases, bulging eyes will be exposed to more air making it difficult to keep them lubricated. To combat excessive dryness, artificial tears and eye drops can be used for moisture and lubrication.

View treatments for the most common underlying cause of Graves’ Ophthalmopathy.


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