Can You Get Chlamydia In The Eye?

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Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting both men and women. According to the NHS, it is most common in those that are under the age of 25. Chlamydia is passed on through unprotected sex or contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid.

Chlamydia symptoms don’t always show, and many people carry the infection and pass it on without knowing. However, if you do have symptoms, you may experience pain when urinating and an unusual discharge from the penis, vagina or bottom. Symptoms affect males and females slightly differently. Other symptoms affecting women include lower stomach pain, bleeding after sex and bleeding between periods. Symptoms affecting men can include pain and swelling in their testicles. Chlamydia can also affect the throat often causing a sore throat.

Whilst chlamydia predominantly affects the genital region, it can also affect the eyes.

Chlamydia in the eye occurs when chlamydia trachomatis (the bacteria that causes the infection), makes direct contact with the mucous membrane (the wet part of the eye). It is also known as chlamydia conjunctivitis, or ocular chlamydia. Symptoms of early-stage chlamydia eye infections can be slow to develop. However, they usually progress to cause irritation, pain, swelling and discharge, usually affecting one eye only. These symptoms are similar to other bacterial eye infections such as conjunctivitis, but the cause, treatments and recovery times differ. 

How do you get a chlamydia eye infection?

You can catch a chlamydia eye infection when your eye comes into direct contact with the genital fluid of an infected person. This can include:

  • Semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person making direct contact with the eye
  • Sharing items such as eye mascara or eye drops
  • Touching or rubbing your eyes after coming into contact with an infected person (this would need to be done quickly as the chlamydia trachomatis infection cannot survive for long outside the human body)
  • Passing it onto your baby if you have a natural birth whilst you have chlamydia


What are the symptoms of eye chlamydia?

The symptoms of eye chlamydia can be the same as other bacterial eye infections such as pink eye.

Eye chlamydia symptoms usually develop slowly. This means you may not notice symptoms during the early stages of the infection. Typically, just one eye is affected but it can affect both eyes.

The main symptoms of a chlamydia eye infections include:

  • Red, itchy, or scratchy eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pus, tears, or watery discharge
  • Eyelids crusting or sticking together

Chlamydia does not usually cause any changes to vision, or any notable pain in the affected eye. If you experience either of these, you should see your doctor or optician for an examination.


What does chlamydia in the eyes look like (pictures)

An internet search of “eye chlamydia” will display a range of pictures, displaying what looks to be a painful eye infection. The main theme is redness of the eye, that can be swollen, with visible discharge on the lower eyelid. Pictures of more severe infections show crusty eyelids that look difficult to open. 



Chlamydia in the eye is diagnosed via swabbing the conjunctiva and sending it to be tested in a laboratory for specific bacteria.

Your doctor may also recommend that you are tested for other sexually transmitted infections or diseases. Syphilis and gonorrhoea can cause infections that can spread to the eyes.


Eye chlamydia treatment

Eye chlamydia is treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline or azithromycin. Doxycycline is the first line treatment, as it is more effective. Tablets are usually taken orally. It is important to have an accurate diagnosis, because using eye drops for standard eye infections (not caused by chlamydia) will not help and can delay the recovery timeframe.

It is important to finish any course of antibiotics that you are prescribed, to ensure the infection is completely treated.

Most cases clear up within a few weeks.


Can it go away by itself?

If left untreated, eye chlamydia is likely to go away by itself after 6-18 months. This is usually what happens in those that do not experience symptoms. However, during this time, the infection can be passed on unknowingly. If you are experiencing symptoms, it is likely that you will require a short course of antibiotics.

Untreated chlamydia in the eye can spread, as well as leading to further complications of the eye.


Is chlamydia in the eye contagious?

Yes, chlamydia in the eye is contagious. It is easily spread through genital fluid to eye contact, or even eye to eye contact.   


Chlamydia eye infections in newborns and babies

Pregnant women who are carrying the infection can pass it on to their newborn baby. This happens as the baby passes through the vagina during delivery.

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

Chlamydial conjunctivitis in a newborn is treated through IV antibiotics and antibiotic ointment. In untreated in newborns, it can lead to further complications, including lung infections, eye infections and even blindness.


Is it considered to be an STI?

Yes, chlamydia of the eye is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is most often transmitted sexually when the eye comes into direct contact with an infected person's genital fluids.


How to prevent it

Chlamydia eye infections can be prevented by having protected sex and practicing good hygiene. Anyone with eye chlamydia should seek treatment as soon as possible and inform recent sexual partners so that they can test too.

It is recommended that pregnant women with chlamydia should receive treatment before giving birth to prevent spreading the infection to the newborn baby.

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.