Supportive Treatments

Written by: Katie Murphy | Last reviewed: June 2022 | Last updated: August 2022

Supportive treatments can include both home remedies and complementary and alternative approaches (CAM). CAM therapies include:1

  • Biologically based therapies – Diets, supplements
  • Mind-body medicine – Meditation, mindfulness, hypnosis
  • Body-based systems – Massage, chiropractic care
  • Alternative medical systems – Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda
  • Energy therapies – Magnets, therapeutic touch

Usually, an approach that is used alongside with traditional medicine is called complementary. A therapy that is used instead of traditional medicine is called an alternative approach.

For those living with thyroid eye disease (TED), supportive and CAM therapies might help manage the symptoms related to the disease. While research results are mixed and experts disagree on exact approaches, these options are often readily available and used by many people looking for other treatment options.

Supportive treatment in TED: Eye drops, eye protection, acupuncture, stopping smoking, pain relief, and diet.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique. Acupuncture involves placing thin needles in specific areas of the body to balance energy, known as “chi” or “qi.” Positive well-being effects might be linked to using acupuncture, like improvements in:2,3

  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Pain
  • Anxiety

Like other CAM therapies, not everyone shows benefits with acupuncture. However, it has been shown to be safe and is well-tolerated, making it an option for many.

The benefits of acupuncture for those with thyroid disorders have been studied for years. The study results are mixed, with some showing benefits, while others do not.4

Eye protection

Protecting your eye from injury and reducing pain and discomfort is a priority for those with TED. Methods used might include:5

Sunglasses, for both protection and to help reduce light sensitivity
An eye patch, if needed to close the eyelids and protect the surface of the eye

Prism lenses might be added to your regular eyeglasses if you have double vision caused by TED.5

Eye moisturizing measures

TED causes eye-bulging and pulled-back eyelids. The result is an eyeball exposed to air, which can lead to dry eye symptoms and injury. Methods to keep your eyes moist include:5

  • Compresses
  • Eye masks
  • Taping
  • Lubricating eye drops

Pain relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers known as NSAIDs might help relieve pain from the swelling and inflammation caused by TED. Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) might help. Some people should not take these pain relievers. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.5

Lifestyle changes

Living a healthy lifestyle never goes out of style, and it rings true for those with TED as well. The most important lifestyle change for those with TED is stopping smoking. If you smoke, you are at a much higher risk for developing TED. If you already have thyroid eye disease and smoke, your symptoms might be worse than someone who does not smoke.5

Changing how you sleep might provide some relief. Sleeping with your head elevated may help reduce the swelling around your eyes.5

Diet and supplements

While experts agree that changing your lifestyle habits promotes better health, there is less agreement on specific diet changes for thyroid eye disease. In general, experts recommend a diet full of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables.

For those with TED, some experts believe that supportive diet changes might help with reducing some of the symptoms from TED.5

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that the body needs to work properly. Selenium plays an active role in thyroid hormone metabolism. If someone has a low selenium level, thyroid problems can occur. Most (but not all) people with TED have thyroid problems, so selenium might play an important role in managing TED.6

Selenium is found in plants, which then is absorbed in animals that eat the plants. Because of this, we can get selenium by eating plants and animals.6

Foods rich in selenium include:6

  • Brazil nuts
  • Beef
  • Organ meats, such as liver
  • Dairy products
  • Seafood
  • Enriched bread, cereals, and grains

Selenium is also available as a supplement and is added to many multivitamins.6

Reduce sodium intake

Decreasing your salt intake can reduce the amount of sodium in your blood. This might help with reducing the amount of swelling around your eyes.5

Antioxidants

Free radicals are unstable molecules. Free radicals can build up inside the body and damage other molecules. This build-up is known as oxidative stress. The exact cause of TED is still unclear, but oxidative stress is thought to contribute to the disease.7

Selenium is an antioxidant, which adds to the positive effects it may have in those with TED. Other studied antioxidants include:8

  • Vitamin A and beta-carotene
  • Vitamin C
  • N-acetyl-L-cysteine
  • Melatonin

Foods rich in antioxidants are known as superfoods. These foods can absorb high levels of free radicals. Some superfoods include:9,10

  • Berries
  • Cocoa
  • Spices
  • Beans, peas, and lentils

Study results are mixed. Some studies have shown at least minor improvements in TED symptoms for those taking or adding antioxidants to their diet. However, there are few studies, and more people need to be followed to show long-term benefits.5,8

Aloe vera

For those with a low functioning thyroid (hypothyroidism), aloe vera supplements might help. However, study results conflict, and you should talk to your doctor about this therapy before starting it. Some research also shows that when taken by mouth, aloe vera may have negative side effects.11, 12

Supportive and CAM treatments for TED are always changing. The latest and greatest treatment may or may not be right for you. In addition, some therapies, such as medical marijuana, might not be legal where you live. Keep this in mind when you are looking at supportive therapies.

Some therapies do not have the evidence behind them to gain the support of doctors. This may or may not impact your decision. However, be cautious of treatments or therapies that claim a cure for TED, as thyroid eye disease does not currently have a cure. Using supportive home remedies and CAM therapies might be a good choice for you when managing the symptoms of TED.

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