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Home / Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) / Chlamydia / Can I get chlamydia in the eye?

Can I get chlamydia in the eye?

Learn about the symptoms and treatment for chlamydia in the eye

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is known for often causing no symptoms, and going undetected in many people.

While the infection mainly affects the genitals, it can occasionally cause an eye infection called conjunctivitis.

An eye infection caused by chlamydia requires treatment. So, you should know what signs to look for so you can treat the infection. Keep reading to learn more about chlamydia in the eye.

What is chlamydial conjunctivitis?

Chlamydial conjunctivitis or trachoma are medical names for an eye infection that is caused by chlamydia bacteria. Other types of conjunctivitis can be caused by other bacteria, viruses or by allergies.

Close-up of a man with conjunctivitis in one eye.

The bacteria that causes chlamydia in the eye is called Chlamydia trachomatis. It is a specific variant of the virus that causes symptoms in the eye. Scientists call this Chlamydia trachomatis with serotypes D-K.

It is common in countries that have poor sanitation, as the bacteria can spread more easily. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that, in 2022, 125 million people Trusted source World Health Organization (WHO) Government Source International Public Health Information Go to source lived in high-risk areas.

Can other STIs affect the eyes?

Gonorrhoea and herpes are other STIs that can cause conjunctivitis symptoms. Like Chlamydia, they are very common infections and can go unnoticed.

What causes chlamydia in the eye?

Chlamydia is usually spread through sexual contact. Symptoms can occur in the eye when bacteria from the genitals get into the eye.

This usually occurs if someone touches their eye after coming into contact with it, usually through semen or other genital fluids.

The bacteria may also be spread through sharing items that has come into contact with the bacteria, such as:

  • washcloths
  • towels
  • cosmetics

Rarely, do people catch it from swimming pools contaminated with the bacteria.

Infants can also catch chlamydial conjunctivitis. This can occasionally happen during childbirth if the mother has untreated chlamydia.

What are the symptoms of chlamydia in the eye?

Common symptoms of chlamydial conjunctivitis include:

  • watery discharge or pus in the eye
  • itchy, red, swollen or scratchy eyes
  • sensitivity to light

Symptoms usually occur from several days to several weeks after you contract the infection. Symptoms develop between 1 and 4 weeks after birth in newborns.

Close-up of a man with conjunctivitis.

These symptoms can be confused with a regular eye infection. If you have chlamydia, you may also experience other symptoms.

Women often experience symptoms such as:

Symptoms in men include:

  • pain whilst peeing
  • pain in the testicles
  • burning or itching in the urethra
  • penile discharge that is white, watery or cloudy

However, chlamydia doesn’t always cause symptoms. So, it can be easy to mistake it for a regular eye infection if you have no other symptoms.

How do I prevent getting chlamydia in the eye?

The best way to prevent contracting chlamydia in the eye is to practise safe sex.

You should use barrier contraception, such as a male or female condom, to prevent contracting chlamydia. This is especially important if you regularly change sexual partners.

Row of multi-coloured condoms on pink background.

To prevent getting the bacteria in your eye, you should wash your hands immediately after sex and avoid touching your face.

It’s also a good idea for you and your sexual partners to get regularly checked for STIs. This will help prevent the spreading of the bacteria and causing chlamydial conjunctivitis.

What happens if I leave chlamydia untreated?

Unlike other cases of conjunctivitis, symptoms of chlamydia will not go away without treatment. It also means you’re more likely to spread the infection to other people. So, do not ignore the signs and get treatment.

It can also cause complications if left untreated. It can damage the time over the eye as the eyelashes scratch the cornea. Over time, this can result in blindness.

How do I treat chlamydia in the eye?

If you have had unprotected sex recently, you should get an STI test as soon as possible. If you test positive, a healthcare professional can prescribe you medication.

You can treat chlamydia conjunctivitis with a course of oral antibiotics.

The first-line treatment is Doxycycline. The second-line treatment is Azithromycin but that should be prescribed if you cannot take Doxycycline.

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You should keep your eyes clean. You should use boiling water that’s cooled down and wipe your eyelashes with a clean cotton wool pad.

Do not wear contact lenses or use any products on your eyes until they get better.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 11-06-2024
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