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.
Can chlamydia affect your eyes?
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:
- Adult inclusion conjunctivitis
- Neonatal inclusion conjunctivitis
How do you get chlamydia in your eyes?
According to Tufts Medical Center, there are different ways in which you can get conjunctivitis caused by chlamydia. These methods of transmission include:
- Touching your eyes after touching infected fluids (even your own if you have genital chlamydia)
- Sharing recently contaminated eyelashes, toiletries, towels, and cosmetics
- Having your eyes come into contact with contaminated bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids
- From mother to baby during childbirth
- Although extremely rare, chlamydia conjunctivitis can be acquired by swimming in a contaminated pool
Signs of chlamydia pink eye
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:
- Chronic unilateral eye redness
- Mucous or pus-like eye discharge
- Swollen lymph nodes around the ear on the affected side
- Swollen eyelids
- Feeling like there’s a foreign object in your eye
- Eye irritation
- Eye spotting
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:
- Eyelid swelling and redness
- Mucous or pus-like eye discharge
- Eye redness
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.
Ocular chlamydia treatment
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.
Does chlamydia cause blindness?
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.
How to prevent chlamydia eye infections
There are many simple steps you can take to protect yourself from chlamydia conjunctivitis. Prevention strategies include:
- Use dental dams and condoms during oral sex and intercourse
- Avoid having your partner’s bodily fluids come into contact with your eyes during sex
- Don’t touch your eyes after masturbating or using sex toys without washing your hands first
- Don’t share towels, cosmetics, false eyelashes, or other products with other people
- If you have signs of conjunctivitis in one eye, use different towels to dry each side of your face
- Discard all your used makeup, eyedrops, and contact lenses after a bout of conjunctivitis
- Get tested for STDs regularly, and ask any sexual partner to get tested as well — thanks to at-home testing, you can now collect your samples from the privacy of your own home
- Go to the doctor if you experience symptoms of conjunctivitis
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