Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. The American Sexual Health Association estimates that chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million cases reported in 2018. In addition to typical infections of the genitourinary system, chlamydia can also affect other parts of the body — including your eyes.
Read on to learn more about chlamydia and eye infections.
Yes. Although chlamydia is most commonly passed during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, it can also affect the eyes. Chlamydia conjunctivitis is a condition characterized by swelling of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye.
Chlamydia in the eyes can cause different conditions, including:
According to Tufts Medical Center, there are different ways in which you can get conjunctivitis caused by chlamydia. These methods of transmission include:
In adults, the symptoms of chlamydia eye problems typically develop somewhat slowly over the course of several weeks. According to the MSD Manuals, the symptoms of adult inclusion conjunctivitis caused by chlamydia include:
Newborns with eye chlamydia, on the other hand, typically develop symptoms between 5 and 14 days after birth. Anywhere from 30% to 50% of babies born to mothers with chlamydia will develop this disease. According to a study published in The Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, the signs of neonatal chlamydia conjunctivitis can include:
Although most cases of newborn eye chlamydia are self-limiting, this infection can also cause eye scarring. The bacteria can also spread to the lungs and cause pneumonia.
The good news is that ocular chlamydia can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Your healthcare provider will probable perform an eye examination, ask questions about your personal and sexual history, and they may take a swab sample of your eye discharge for testing.
It’s very important to tell your doctor if you’ve recently had any bodily fluids (your own or your partner’s) come into your eyes, since this could point them towards the correct diagnosis.
Your doctor could prescribe oral or ocular antibiotics, in the form of eye drops or ointments, or both. If you got the infection from your partner, they will also need to receive treatment for chlamydia. Anyone who has chlamydia should abstain from having sex for at least 7 days after completing the treatment. You should never stop taking your antibiotics early, even if your symptoms have gotten better. This can lead to recurrent infections and increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.
In rare cases, chlamydia eye infections can lead to a condition called trachoma. According to an article published in the Review of Ophthalmology, trachoma can be the result of repetitive chlamydia eye infections. Trachoma is a chronic inflammatory type of keratoconjunctivitis, and it’s one of the most important causes of infectious blindness around the world. This condition is more prevalent in impoverished areas with poor sanitation services, but it can affect anyone.
Trachoma caused by chlamydia can lead to eye discharge, a thickened conjunctiva, and ocular scars. If left untreated, trachoma can quickly lead to blindness. However, trachoma is very rare in areas where people have access to adequate treatment for chlamydia.
There are many simple steps you can take to protect yourself from chlamydia conjunctivitis. Prevention strategies include:
You can learn more about different STDs and other sexual health topics at STDWatch.com.
Chlamydia: Fast Facts - ashasexualhealth.org
Eye Infection: Chlamydial Conjunctivitis - hhma.org
Adult Inclusion Conjunctivitis - msdmanuals.com
The Many Faces of Chlamydial Infection - reviewofophthalmology.com