• What Is Trachoma?

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    Written By:
    Reviewed By: Stephen N Lipsky MD
    Nov. 06, 2019

    Trachoma is an eye infection affecting both eyes. It is the world’s leading cause of infectious blindness. A bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis causes trachoma. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), trachoma has caused the visual impairment of 1.8 million people. Of those people, 450 thousand are irreversibly blind.

    In its early stages, trachoma causes conjunctivitis (pink eye). Early symptoms begin to appear within five to 12 days of exposure to the bacterium. These symptoms can include:

    • mild itching and irritation of the eyes and eyelids, and
    • a discharge from the eyes

    As the infection progresses, it causes eye pain and blurred vision. If the infection is untreated, scarring occurs inside the eyelid. This leads to the eyelashes turning inward toward the eye. This condition is called trichiasis. The eyelashes brush and scratch against the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped window at the front of the eye. This continual irritation turns the cornea cloudy. It can lead to the development of corneal ulcers and vision loss.

    Having one episode of trachoma rarely causes problems. Ophthalmologists think that repeated infections lead to the scarring and blinding complications. Generally, it takes years before trachoma can cause vision loss.

    Who is at risk for trachoma?

    Trachoma is rare in the United States and Europe. It is commonly found in developing nations. Poverty, crowded living conditions, and poor sanitation help spread the disease. Most of the people infected are women and children. Trachoma is very contagious. It is spread by direct contact with:

    • someone infected with the bacteria
    • through insects, especially flies, or
    • contaminated objects, such as towels