Chlamydia and conjunctivitis

How does chlamydia trachomatis cause conjunctivitis?

There is a condition known as Chlamydial Conjunctivitis; chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK and is most common in young adults who are sexually active

Chlamydia trachomatis is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness in developing countries; repeated infection of the eyes with the bacteria results in trachoma which is a chronic inflammatory form of keratoconjunctivitis which in 2002 accounted for approximately 3.6 % of blindness worldwide.  It is one of the leading causes of infectious blindness

 

How do you contract chlamydial conjunctivitis?

Chlamydial conjunctivitis can be spread into the eyes by several methods:

  • Transferring the bacteria from infected genitals by touching your eyes without washing your hands
  • Sharing flannels, towels, false lashes, or cosmetics with someone who has the infection
  • Sexual contact with someone who is infected with chlamydia

The incubation period for the disease is approximately 14 days

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Symptoms of chlamydia in the eye

Symptoms of a chlamydial eye infection include:

  • Swelling of the eye area
  • Itching and irritation
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Burning sensation
  • Mucous discharge
  • Watering of the eyes
  • Gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the eye area

 

Chlamydial eye infections in newborns (neonatal conjunctivitis)

A pregnant woman who is infected with chlamydia can pass it to her unborn child as the baby travels down through the birth canal and then the vagina during the birth process.  It has been shown that as many as 50% of newborns whose mother is infected with chlamydia will contract neonatal conjunctivitis

 

Test for chlamydia

There is a laboratory test for chlamydial conjunctivitis; it involves taking a swab of the conjunctiva.  The swab is sent away to have the test but it is likely that the GP is likely to ask for tests for other sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, syphilis or HIV/AIDS

 

Treatment for chlamydial conjunctivitis

As discussed earlier, chlamydial conjunctivitis is left untreated can lead to sight loss and so it is important that if a person is infected, that infection is detected as early as possible so that treatment can be given.

It is likely that a laboratory test (see above) will be given to ascertain what strain of bacteria is causing the infection; treatment with antibiotics will effectively cure the infection in a matter of weeks.  Eye ointment or drops may also be given

 

Conclusion

Whilst it is common to consider chlamydia a disease of the genitals that is sexually transmitted, the pathogen Chlamydia trachomatis can also affect the eyes if the bacteria come into contact with them

If the infection is left untreated it may worsen over time and eventually could lead to blindness so it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible

 

Sources

  1. Adult chlamydial conjunctivitis https://webeye.ophth.uiowa.edu/eyeforum/cases/68-Adult-Chlamydial-Conjunctivitis-Red-Eyes-Chronic.htm#:~:text=Chlamydial%20conjunctivitis%20is%20a%20sexually,is%20one%20to%20two%20weeks.
  2. Conjunctivitis, chlamydial (adult inclusion conjunctivitis) https://www.college-optometrists.org/guidance/clinical-management-guidelines/conjunctivitis-chlamydial.html
  3. Can you get chlamydia in your eye https://www.healthline.com/health/chlamydia-in-eye
  4. Chlamydial conjunctivitis - patient leaflet https://www.jpaget.nhs.uk/media/328541/OP-54-Chlamydial-conjunctivitis.pdf

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