Chlamydia in the Eye: Symptoms, Transmission & Cure

Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Chlamydial conjunctivitis is a bacterial eye infection caused by chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. Symptoms include tearing, discharge, pink eye chlamydia infection, itching, and swelling of the eyelids.
  • Its diagnosis involves a physical examination and swab tests, and treatment includes antibiotics. Both partners should be treated to prevent reinfection.
  • Preventive measures include safe sex practices, good hygiene, and avoiding sharing personal items. Consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.


Chlamydial conjunctivitis or pink eye is an eye infection caused by coming in contact with a person having genital chlamydia, which is a sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, about 20-50% of newborns contract neonatal chlamydial conjunctivitis, which transfers from the mother with cervical chlamydia during birth. As per a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, out of all acute conjunctivitis, 1.8-5.6% of infections are due to chlamydia in adults. It is a bacterial STI that is more common in young women.

What is chlamydial conjunctivitis?

It is a bacterial eye infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the eyelids and white of the eye. This membrane is called the conjunctiva, and illness or inflammation of this membrane is called conjunctivitis. However, if the agent causing conjunctivitis is chlamydia, then it is called chlamydial conjunctivitis.

Chlamydia is an STD and can affect the eyes if the semen or genital fluid of the person suffering from the infection comes in contact with the eyes. Additionally, newborns can contract ocular chlamydia infection if the mother suffers from an illness while giving birth. It can be unilateral or bilateral, which means it usually affects one eye but can also affect both eyes.

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Symptoms of Chlamydia in the Eye

If you experience the following symptoms, there is a chance it is a chlamydial infection or an eye STD. You must consult a doctor immediately to avoid the spread: 

  • Tearing
  • Mucous or pus discharge
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Pink Eye
  • Photophobia
  • Swelling of eyelids
  • Swelling of lymph nodes around eyes

The infection ultimately takes 1-4 weeks in newborns to develop since the initial exposure. Other STD in eye symptoms includes swelling, pink eye, and bloody or watery chlamydia eye discharge. In some cases, a pseudomembrane develops that covers the eye whites. These STI symptoms take a while to appear post-delivery. However, they can occur sooner if the amniotic sac ruptures during delivery. 

If the person has genital chlamydia and chlamydial conjunctivitis, which is likely in the case of adults, males, and females, experience different symptoms. 

  • Females: Women experience pain while urinating or during intercourse, bleeding between periods of intercourse, pelvic or abdominal pain, and unusual vaginal discharge. 

Males: In men, testicular pain, white or cloudy penile discharge, itch or burning sensation in the urethra, and pain while peeing are the common symptoms.

How do you get chlamydia in your eye?

Chlamydia is a contagious disease and can spread through sexual activity or genital fluids through hand-to-eye contact. That’s when you develop chlamydial conjunctivitis or STD pink eye. It can also contract if you come in connection with the juices of an infected person and then touch your eyes afterward. Other transmitting methods include using a washcloth or sharing false eyelashes.

How do you test for chlamydia in the eye?

Your provider diagnoses chlamydia infection when physically examining the symptoms or running diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests are done using a swab from your eye conjunctiva on which bacterial presence is tested. Other tests check for STDs like syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or HIV. 

What antibiotics are used to treat chlamydia in the eye?

Chlamydial conjunctivitis is treated using antibiotics against the infection-causing bacteria. It can be either in the form of eye drops or oral antibiotic tablets. However, treating yourself alone won’t help if your partner also suffers from this infection. Therefore, you need to check for STI infection in your partner, and your doctor can prescribe a suitable antibiotic course for you and your partner. It takes about 3 to 4 weeks for the antibiotics to nullify the bacterial infection completely. 

In the case of a newborn baby, the doctor may prescribe either eye ointment or intravenous antibiotics. If the infection diagnosis occurs early, chlamydia eye infection treatment can take place sooner. As in newborns, immunity is relatively low, and chlamydia can cause blindness if left untreated. 

The following antibiotics are usually recommended for adults: 

  • Erythromycin: 500 mg tablets daily four times a week
  • Azithromycin: 100 mg tablets daily, twice a week
  • Doxycycline: A single dose of 1g
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How can I help prevent chlamydial conjunctivitis?

You can prevent chlamydial conjunctivitis by following certain practices and increasing hygienic measures: 

  • Stop sharing personal care items like towels, pillows, washcloths, or sheets with others. Even if one of your eyes has an infection, don’t use the same towel for both eyes. 
  • Frequently wash your hands, especially after intercourse and don’t touch or rub your face or eyes with dirty hands. 
  • During intercourse, use latex or polyurethane condoms. Also, avoid sexual activity with multiple partners. 
  • Don’t share makeup products or eye cosmetics, especially if you or someone has an infection. If you have had an eye infection, don’t use the same makeup again that you used during the infection. 
  • If the infection occurs during pregnancy, get treatment before delivery to avoid the transfer of infection to the newborn baby. 

Consult a Doctor

If you had unprotected sex and see signs and symptoms of chlamydia infection, or have multiple sexual partners or a new sexual partner, consult your doctor immediately. Also, if you are pregnant and experience the symptoms of chlamydial conjunctivitis, visit your GP as soon as possible to get the appropriate treatment before the delivery of the baby.

FAQs About Chlamydia in Eye

How contagious is chlamydia in the eye?

Chlamydia in the eye occurs due to sexually transmitted chlamydia infection via hand-to-eye with the act of sexual fluids or genitals. Therefore, it can spread from your partner or your genitals. Moreover, an infant can also contract chlamydia upon birth from an infected mother. Sharing personal care products with an infected person can also spread it.

What does chlamydia in the eye look like?

The symptoms of chlamydia in the eye include watery discharge, redness, swelling, itching, and pus. These symptoms appear within 2 to 19 days of initial exposure.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

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