Thermal imaging detects early signs of thyroid eye disease

03 March 2017

A team from University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) have been awarded major national and European prizes for their breakthrough work in detecting the early signs of eye inflammation in patients with thyroid disease.

The research team, led by ophthalmology registrar Matt Edmunds and consultant eye surgeon Alastair Denniston, working with consultant endocrinologist/clinician scientist Kristien Boelaert and the UHB Clinical Photography department, used a thermal imaging camera to measure the temperature of the tissues around the eyes in patients with a thyroid condition called Graves’ Disease.

Around a quarter of those with Graves’ Disease can go on to develop eye problems with bulging, redness and swelling of the eyes, grittiness, soreness and pain, double vision and even blindness, known as Thyroid Eye Disease (TED).

Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict which Graves’ patients will develop TED and the current assessment methods are sometimes inaccurate and subjective.

However, the UHB team found that it was possible to detect early signs of inflammation, as shown by an increase in temperature around the eyes on thermal imaging photography, in those Graves’ patients who went on to develop TED.

“This raises the possibility of making a diagnosis of TED at the earliest possible stage and therefore intervening with therapies before the unpleasant effects of TED take place,” explained Matt.

Matt presented the findings at the Oxford Ophthalmological Congress, one of the biggest eye conferences in the UK, and won the Ian Fraser Cup for best clinical research. He also presented the work at the annual meeting of the European Society of Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery (ESOPRS) in Athens, Greece, winning the best presentation prize.

“We would like to thank our funding bodies, Fight For Sight, British Thyroid Foundation and the Thyroid Eye Disease Charitable Trust, for enabling us to complete this important work,” he went on.

“We would also like to thank over 300 thyroid clinic patients who participated in the study. We very much hope that this work will benefit many other thyroid patients in the future.”