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Quick Facts



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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The conjunctiva is the clear, thin tissue that lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white of your eye.

What is trachoma?

Trachoma is a particular type of bacterial infection of the conjunctiva.

  • Trachoma is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis

  • If it isn’t treated, you can lose your vision

  • Trachoma is the most common preventable cause of blindness in the world

  • Trachoma happens mostly to young children who live in dry, hot countries in North Africa, the Middle East, India, Australia, and Southeast Asia

  • Trachoma spreads easily by touching the eye or hands of an infected person, by flies, or by sharing infected objects, such as towels

  • Doctors treat trachoma with antibiotics

What causes trachoma?

Trachoma is caused by a type of bacteria, Chlamydia trachomatis. The disease spreads easily by:

  • Touching your eye after touching the eye or hands of an infected person

  • Flies

  • Sharing towels, eye makeup, or handkerchiefs that have the bacteria on them

The bacteria is related to the type of chlamydia that cause sexually transmitted disease, but trachoma isn't spread sexually.

What are the symptoms of trachoma?

Usually both your eyes are affected. Early symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy, irritated eyes

  • Watery eyes

  • Swollen eyelids

  • Sensitivity to bright light

After awhile, trachoma gradually starts to affect your cornea. The cornea is the clear part of your eye that you see through. It is in front, over the colored part of your eye (the iris). When your cornea is affected by trachoma, you have:

  • Worsening vision problems (your vision is blocked by blood vessels growing across your cornea)

  • Scars on the inside of your eyelid that scratch your cornea and also cause your eyelashes to turn inward and rub against your cornea when you blink

  • Loss of vision or blindness

How can doctors tell if I have trachoma?

Doctors suspect trachoma based on your symptoms. To tell for sure, they’ll swab your eye and send the sample to a lab.

How do doctors treat trachoma?

Doctors will:

  • Give you antibiotic medicine (either by mouth or in an ointment to put on your eye)

  • Do eye surgery, if trachoma has badly scarred your eyelids or damaged your cornea

How can I prevent trachoma?

To prevent spreading trachoma, doctors will tell you to:

  • Wash your hands and face with clean water

  • Don't share towels, washcloths, bedding, or eye makeup with other people

  • Get rid of areas where flies can breed

If many people who live near you have trachoma, doctors will give antibiotics to everyone in your neighborhood.

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