Trachoma

Trachoma

  • Eye

Definition

Trachoma is caused by an organism called Chlamydia trachomatis. It is rare in US citizens who have not lived in underdeveloped countries.

What is going on in the body?

Trachoma is a form of an eye infection called conjunctivitis. The chlamydia organism infects the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye. It can cause a number of symptoms and serious complications. Chlamydia was once thought to be a virus but is now known to be a type of bacterium. It responds to some types of antibiotics.
The infection is chronic and long lasting. Trachoma usually infects only the eyes. But it can also settle in the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Trachoma is a chief cause of blindness in many areas of the world. Trachoma is most common in poor countries that lack clean water and adequate hygiene. It is sometimes transmitted by using washbasins and towels that others have used. Flies and gnats that come in contact with the eyes may also spread the organism.
Trachoma can be found along the Mediterranean Sea, in the Middle East, India, China, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and Argentina. It also occurs in rural areas in the United States, especially on reservations for Native Americans.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the disease?

Trachoma can be nearly eliminated with good hygiene measures. Washing the face daily with clean water, soap, and using one's own towel can decrease the risk. It may also be helpful to keep gnats and flies away from the eyes.

Diagnosed

How is the disease diagnosed?

The healthcare professional needs to do a complete history and physical exam, followed by an eye examination. A small spatula is used to collect material from the conjunctiva. If the Chlamydia trachomatis organism is found, the diagnosis is confirmed. In some cases, further tests must be done.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the disease?

If the condition is not treated, the cornea can become scarred over the pupil area, causing the following:
  • dry eyes
  • corneal scar tissue caused by the ingrowth of eyelashes from the scarred lids.
  • ptosis, or drooping of the upper eyelid
  • corneal ulcers and infections
  • partial loss of vision
  • blindness

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Trachoma is spread by direct contact from one person to another. It can also be spread by contaminated water and items such as shared towels.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the disease?

Trachoma is usually treated with antibiotics given over 3 to 5 weeks. In areas with poor hygiene, little medical care and few antibiotics may be available. In this case, topical antibiotics can be used for mass treatment. People with trachoma often have a secondary bacterial infection, which also must be treated. Corrective surgery may be needed to prevent blindness. Vaccines offer only temporary and partial protection at best.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics may cause stomach upset or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the disease?

If trachoma is diagnosed early, treatment with antibiotics may control symptoms. For more extensive symptoms and disease, surgery may be necessary. Recovery from surgery may take a few days to several weeks.

Monitor

How is the disease monitored?

Depending on the cause, a person may be able to monitor trachoma at home. This condition may recur and require additional treatment. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

Sources

Professional Guide to Diseases, Springhouse, 1995. Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary.

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