You can get gonorrhea in your eye if it comes in contact with infected fluids. When it does, the condition is called gonococcal conjunctivitis. While the risk of contracting gonococcal conjunctivitis is very low, it’s worth making yourself aware of the symptoms gonorrhea can cause in your eye, how to treat the problem, and how to prevent it.
Causes of Gonorrhea in the Eye
Gonorrhea is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. This bacterium infects the body’s mucous membranes. Because it’s a sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea normally affects parts of the body involved in sexual contact, including the urethra, throat, cervix, or rectum. However, it can also affect the eye if it comes in contact with infected bodily fluids or mucous membranes. This can occur in several ways:
- An infected person ejaculates or urinates in or around their partner’s eyes.
- Someone touches their eyes after coming in contact with infected urine, semen, or vaginal fluid.
- A newborn baby contracts gonorrhea when it comes in contact with bacteria in the birth canal.
When the N. gonorrhoeae bacterium lands on the eye’s mucous membrane, it can penetrate the subepithelial tissue there after three or four days. The eye gives the bacterium a warm, wet place to live that’s not too dissimilar to the other parts of the body it usually infects.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea in the Eye
Gonorrhea can cause several symptoms when it affects the eye. These symptoms usually appear within three to five days, although they can occur as soon as one day or up to one month after you’ve been infected. Some of the most common symptoms of gonorrhea of the eye include:
- Watery discharge from the eye, which becomes a green, white, or yellow pus-like discharge over time. This typically forms a crust over the eye.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Swelling around the eye.
- Difficulty opening the eye.
- Pain around the eye.
- Redness in and around the eye.
As gonorrhea in the eyes is very rare, especially in adults, the condition might not be diagnosed until more serious symptoms occur. These include:
- Inflammation and damage to the cornea, including scarring and ulceration.
- Partial or total vision loss.
While these symptoms sound scary, it’s important to remember that gonorrhea of the eye is incredibly rare for adults. There are also proven treatment options that can halt the infection before these serious side effects take hold.
If you think you might have gonorrhea of the eye, seek medical treatment, and be honest about your sexual history. Being candid about your sex life is the best way to make sure you get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment when you need it.
Diagnosis of Gonorrhea of the Eye
Gonorrhea of the eye may be diagnosed using bacterioscopy. This procedure examines discharge from the eye for the presence of N. gonorrhoeae. If your medical team feels you may have gonorrhea of the eye, but the bacterioscopy does not show a positive result, they might grow a culture from your discharge sample to get a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment for Gonorrhea of the Eye
Because gonorrhea of the eye can result in vision loss, treatment usually involves a hospital visit to assess the condition and create the best plan.
Medical teams usually wash the eye out with a saline or an antibiotic solution. They will then give you a shot of ceftriaxone or cefixime to clear the infection. This is an intramuscular shot, usually given in the upper arm, thigh, or buttocks. You might also get an azithromycin tablet.
Your medical team may then prescribe topical antibiotics to give your eyes some relief while the shot takes hold. They might prescribe Mydriatica to resolve corneal ulcers. Early treatment dramatically reduces the risk of vision loss or impairment.
Preventing Gonorrhea of the Eye
Washing your hands thoroughly after sex, using mild soap and water, is one of the best ways to avoid contracting gonorrhea of the eye.
During sex, try to keep semen or urine away from your face. If you do get semen or urine in your eyes — and you aren’t certain of your partner’s STI status — wash them out thoroughly with lukewarm running water to be safe.
Nurx™ has STI screening tests that can confirm whether you or your sexual partners have gonorrhea or other sexually transmitted infections. Getting tested once a year or whenever you get into a new relationship is a good way to reduce your risk of contracting gonorrhea in the eye and elsewhere.
If you or a sexual partner test positive for gonorrhea, you should both seek medical treatment. It’s a good idea to wait seven days after treatment before having unprotected sex again, just to be sure you’re both free of infection.
Gonorrhoea presenting as red eye: Rare case, National Center for Biotechnology Information, January-June 2012