Can You Get Chlamydia In Your Eyes?

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection that is transmitted through sexual contact. According to the World Health Organization, STIs are caused by a variety of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites. One common sexually transmitted infection is chlamydia, which is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which can be transmitted through sexual contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Chlamydia can also be transmitted through the birth process (via Healthline).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 1,579,885 chlamydia cases in 2020. The most common symptoms of chlamydia in women are abnormal vaginal discharge and burning during urination, says Mayo Clinic. In men, chlamydia may cause discharge from the penis and burning during urination. However, some people with chlamydia may have no symptoms at all.

Although chlamydia is usually known as a sexual disease, it can also affect the eyes — a condition known as trachoma.

How is trachoma transmitted and what are the symptoms?

Chlamydia in the eyes is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. According to Mayo Clinic, the condition is primarily found in developing countries, where poor hygiene and overcrowding can facilitate the spread of the infection. It is most commonly found in areas where access to clean water and sanitation is limited and is a leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. 

Trachoma is transmitted through contact with infected eye, throat, or nose secretions. This can occur through direct contact with the secretions of an infected person, through flies that have been in contact with an infected person, or through indirect contact with objects that are contaminated, per the CDC. According to the center, children are particularly vulnerable to infection, as they may be more likely to touch their eyes and face, as well as likely to have close contact with infected individuals. Symptoms of chlamydia in the eyes may include redness, swelling, discharge, pain, and blurred vision. If left untreated, trachoma can cause scarring of the inner eyelid and eventually lead to blindness, explains Mayo Clinic.

What are the current methods of treatment for trachoma?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a program called the SAFE strategy to help control and eliminate trachoma. The acronym SAFE stands for Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement. This strategy involves providing access to surgery for those with advanced trachoma and distributing antibiotics to treat active infections. It also includes preventative measures, like promoting facial cleanliness to reduce the spread of infection, reducing overcrowding in living environments, improving sanitation, and making clean water accessible.

According to a 2018 review of the SAFE strategy, which was published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology, the most commonly used antibiotic for the treatment of trachoma is azithromycin. The review emphasizes the importance of hygiene education, stating that the route to eliminating trachoma is by eliminating all sources of transmission. This includes focusing on toilet sanitation and the elimination of flies. The source also warns against wiping or rubbing the eyes.