Eye Infection: Chlamydial Conjunctivitis

What is chlamydial conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is redness and swelling of the clear membrane that lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white of your eye. This membrane is called the conjunctiva. Chlamydia is a type of bacteria that can cause infections.

What is the cause?

Chlamydia can be spread when you get bacteria in your eyes from:

  • Touching your eyes without washing your hands
  • Sharing washcloths, towels, cosmetics, or false eyelashes
  • Having sexual contact with someone who is infected

Also, a mother who has chlamydia can pass this disease to her baby during birth.

What are the symptoms?

Eye problems caused by chlamydia in adults usually develop slowly. Symptoms may include:

  • Red, itchy, swollen or scratchy eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Pus or watery discharge

Usually there is no change in vision and no pain.

In a newborn, the symptoms may be eye redness, eyelid swelling, and watery discharge that start when the baby is 5 to 7 days old.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and activities and examine your eyes. A swab of your conjunctiva may be sent to a lab to check for bacteria.

You may need to have tests for other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV/AIDS.

How is it treated?

Chlamydial conjunctivitis is treated with both antibiotic pills and eyedrops or ointment to kill the chlamydia in your body. Your sexual partner must also be treated. Usually you will get better after taking the antibiotics for 3 to 4 weeks.

Treatment for a newborn is antibiotic ointment and IV antibiotics. Early treatment can prevent serious problems. Chlamydia can cause blindness or severe lung infections in newborns.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent chlamydial conjunctivitis?

  • Wash your hands often. Do not touch or rub your eyes unless your hands are clean.
  • Never share eye makeup or cosmetics with anyone. When you have conjunctivitis, throw out all eye makeup you have been using.
  • Do not share towels, washcloths, pillows, or sheets with anyone. If one of your eyes is affected but not the other, use a separate towel for each eye.
  • Use latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Have just 1 sexual partner who is not sexually active with anyone else.
  • If you are pregnant and have a chlamydial infection, get treatment for it before your baby is born.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/

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