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What is Orbital Decompression?

By Erin Oxendine
Updated May 17, 2024
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An orbital decompression is a surgical procedure done to help alleviate pain from an eye that is protruding from the socket. When the eye socket is compressed or damaged, it can cause the eye to bulge, which can cause painful headaches and strain on the upper facial cavities. Most patients with this condition end up having surgery, which releases pressure on the orbit and gives the eye more space, allowing it to return to its normal position.

The most common reason why a person would have orbital decompression surgery is due to Graves Disease. Graves Disease is a form of hyperthyroidism that develops when the immune system is not working the way it should. Some of the symptoms are weakened eye muscles, inflammation in the eyes, and headaches. If the swelling and inflammation in the eyes is not treated, it can lead to visual impairment. Doctors can manage less severe aspects of this disease with medication, but some patients may need an orbital decompression.

When surgery is necessary, one of the common surgical methods is an endoscopic orbital decompression involving general anesthesia. During this procedure, the surgeon will use an endoscope and other instruments to go in through the patient's nostril into the sinus cavity. Next, the surgeon will remove a small amount of the bone that lies within the sinus cavity and the eye orbit. This will create space in the sinus lining and the orbit, resulting in decreased force around the eye.

Once the orbital decompression surgery is completed, the patient may be sent home the same day or kept overnight for recovery. The patient will probably be prescribed medication for pain and to cut the risk of infection. Patients will also need follow up visits with their treating physicians in order to monitor the healing progress and check for any surgical complications.

After the person has had orbital decompression surgery, it may take awhile for the swelling and irritation in the eyes to completely go away. Complaints that individuals have noted include a feeling of heaviness behind the eyes, temporary facial numbness, and dry eyes. There may be a need for medications such as steroids, eye drops, or antibiotics to minimize some of the side effects from the surgery.

Surgeons consider the orbital decompression procedure to be beneficial overall in the treatment of bulging eyes. While the decompression has a high success rate, afterward some individuals may need plastic surgery to tighten loose skin around the eye sockets and eyelids. Other patients may also need surgery to correct vision problems.

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