Signs and symptoms of trachoma usually affect both eyes and may include:
- Mild itching and irritation of the eyes and eyelids
- Eye discharge containing mucus or pus
- Eyelid swelling
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Vision loss
Young children are particularly susceptible to infection. But the disease progresses slowly, and the more painful symptoms may not emerge until adulthood.
Trachoma is caused by certain subtypes of Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacterium that can also cause the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia.
Trachoma spreads through contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Hands, clothing, towels and insects can all be routes for transmission. In developing countries, eye-seeking flies also are a means of transmission.
Factors that increase your risk of contracting trachoma include:
- Crowded living conditions. People living in close contact are at greater risk of spreading infection.
- Poor sanitation. Poor sanitary conditions, inadequate access to water, and lack of hygiene, such as unclean faces or hands, help spread the disease.
- Age. In areas where the disease is active, it's most common in children ages 4 to 6.
- Sex. In some areas, women's rate of contracting the disease is two to six times higher than that of men. This may be attributed to the fact that women have more contact with children, who are the primary reservoir of infection.
- Flies. People living in areas with problems controlling the fly population may be more susceptible to infection.
One episode of trachoma caused by Chlamydia trachomatis is easily treated with early detection and use of antibiotics. Repeated or secondary infections can lead to complications, including:
- Scarring of the inner eyelid
- Eyelid deformities, such as an inward-folding eyelid (entropion) or ingrown eyelashes (trichiasis), which can scratch the cornea
- Corneal scarring or cloudiness
- Partial or complete vision loss
Proper hygiene practices include:
- Face washing and hand-washing. Keeping faces and hands clean may help break the cycle of reinfection.
- Fly control. Reducing fly populations can help eliminate a source of transmission.
- Proper waste management. Properly disposing of animal and human waste can reduce breeding grounds for flies.
- Improved access to water. Having a fresh water source nearby can help improve hygienic conditions.