Chlamydia can occur in your eyes as well as in your genital area. Chlamydia is one of the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease reported in the United States. There are more than 12.5 million cases reported in the U.S. each year. Also referred to as Chlamydia trachomatis, chlamydia can occur at any age in both men and women, although there are slightly higher incident rates reported for younger women. In fact, 1 in 20 young women between the ages of 14 and 24 who are sexually active will report a case of chlamydia at least once.
Causes of Chlamydia in the Eye
Even though chlamydia most often occurs in the genital area, it can result in an eye infection as well. When you contract chlamydia in the eye, it will often be referred to as chlamydia conjunctivitis. The infection is caused by bacteria that gets into the eyes, and the same bacteria is responsible for both chlamydia in the genital area as well as chlamydia in the eye.
When chlamydia in the eye is left untreated, it can result in blindness, though this most commonly occurs in developing countries. There are few reported cases of this occurring in the United States, as chlamydia is highly treatable. You can contract the infection through either direct or indirect contact with a person who is infected.
Symptoms of a Chlamydia Infection in the Eye
The symptoms of chlamydia in the eye are widely different than those experienced in the genitals, primarily due to the area of the body that has been affected. Most often, the symptoms will be similar to those experienced when you have a pinkeye infection. Typical symptoms that you may experience if you have the bacterial infection include:
- Redness in the eyes or the appearance of bloodshot eyes.
- Itching and irritation in the eyes and surrounding tissue.
- Swelling of the eyelids or other soft tissue surrounding the eyes.
- Discharge of mucus from the eyes, especially around the tear ducts.
- Tearing or constant watering of the eyes, sometimes with a burning sensation.
- Light sensitivity and tearing with exposure to light.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the areas close to your eyes.
Chlamydial Eye Infections and Childbirth
If you are pregnant and are experiencing a case of chlamydia, there is a risk of the infection spreading to your baby during the birth process. The bacteria from a mother’s birth canal can pass to the eyes of the newborn. This is referred to as neonatal conjunctivitis and can be dangerous to the sight of a newborn. In 50% of the cases in which a pregnant mother has an active genital chlamydia infection, the baby will be born with neonatal conjunctivitis. Because of this, regular STI testing is common during pregnancy. If you test negative but notice symptoms later in the pregnancy, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider and be retested. Chlamydia is easy to treat, and treatment can prevent complications with your newborn, such as blindness and infection of the lungs.
What Is the Treatment for a Chlamydial Eye Infection?
Chlamydial eye infections can be extremely uncomfortable, but they are easy to treat with a round of antibiotics designed to fight that specific type of bacteria. Since the condition can worsen rather quickly, the earlier treatment is sought, the better, but it is never too late to seek out treatment. If it is suspected that you have a chlamydial eye infection, your healthcare provider will look at the bacteria in a laboratory to determine the specific strain and then find the right antibiotic to clear the bacteria from your body.
Once the right antibiotic has been prescribed, you will usually see relief from your symptoms within a few days to a week, with the infection completely clearing within a few weeks. It is possible to redevelop the condition once you have had it, so if you continue to experience symptoms, or begin experiencing them again, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.
If your newborn contracts the infection at birth, the baby often will immediately be treated with an antibiotic eye ointment and also a round of IV antibiotics.
Ways Chlamydial Eye Infections Are Not Spread
There are many misconceptions about the spread of chlamydial eye infections. To actually contract the bacteria, you would need to come into contact with either the urinary fluids or the genital fluids of an infected person. It can not be contracted by kissing someone who is infected, swimming in public pools or sitting in hot tubs, sharing dishes or eating utensils, or sharing clothing.
How Can You Prevent Contracting Chlamydial Eye Infections?
Chlamydial eye infections can be prevented by avoiding contact with the bacteria that causes the infection. You can reduce your risk of contracting the bacteria by:
- Washing your hands before you touch your eyes or if you suspect you have had contact with someone with the infection.
- Avoiding sharing items that can come into contact with your eyes, such as towels, washcloths, cosmetics, and fake eyelashes.
- Using barrier protection methods when having sexual contact with a partner who may be infected.
- Having regular STI checks with your healthcare provider.
While chlamydial infections are most commonly associated with the genital area and sexual contact, the bacteria responsible can cause an infection in the eye. The symptoms are pronounced and easy to identify, and the infection is easy to treat. If you suspect that you have been exposed, the quicker you seek testing and treatment, the treatment will work faster and will be more effective. You are also less likely to experience any major side effects from a prolonged infection.