Trachoma is an eye disease recognized as a public health problem in over 40 countries worldwide. Generally, the most affected countries are those with limited drinking water resources. Trachoma causes vision loss if left untreated, and blindness due to this eye disease is irreversible. What is trachoma? How is it transmitted? What treatments for trachoma are available? Here are our explanations to make things clearer.

What is trachoma?

Trachoma is an eye infection caused by a bacterium known as Chlamydia trachomatis. Trachoma is also called Egyptian ophthalmia or granular conjunctivitis. Repeated infection of the eyes with the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria can cause eyelids to become deformed. The deformity can also cause eyelashes to rub continually against the eye's surface (the cornea). This repeated friction can lead to permanent damage to the cornea.

The transmission of trachoma

Trachoma is spread from person to person through contact with eye and nasal secretions. Children are among the most affected as they easily transmit the bacteria to each other (hands, clothes, sneezes, etc.). The infection is then rapidly transmitted to the parents of affected children.

It has been observed that the bacteria are transmitted even more rapidly when there is a water shortage and poor sanitation systems. And in the early stages of infection, trachoma is particularly contagious.

Trachoma is also transmitted through contact with flies that may have landed on the eyes or noses of infected people.

The development stages of trachoma

There are two stages of infection with trachoma. The 1st stage is when the risks of transmission are the highest. The 2nd stage, which develops later, corresponds to a chronic and scarring infection. In other words, symptoms may become chronic and conjunctival scarring may occur.

What are the symptoms of trachoma?

During the 1st stage of the infection, people sometimes remain asymptomatic. After an incubation period of 5 to 10 days, the conjunctiva may turn red due to inflammation. Secretions and discharges can be observed in both eyes. Affected people often experience stinging and discomfort similar to feeling as though they have sand in their eyes.

Without treatment, trachoma can become chronic and cause the eyelid to turn inward. This causes the eyelashes to rub continuously against the eyeball, thereby increasing pain, damage and sensitivity to light. When episodes of trachoma occur over a period of years, sufferers develop irreversible vision loss or blindness.

Trachoma is diagnosed by examining the inner side of the eyelid. The person examining the eye looks for follicles (follicular trachoma) and scars. They also evaluate if any deviated eyelashes rub on the eyeball.

What are the treatments for trachoma?

Treatment consists of oral antibiotics: azithromycin, doxycycline or tetracycline. Trachoma can also be treated with antibiotic ointments containing 1% tetracycline or erythromycin.

In the case of deformation of the eyelid or lesions on the conjunctiva or cornea, a surgical operation may be recommended.

If you have just returned from a trip to a country where trachoma is still prevalent, and you have doubts, make an appointment for an eye exam.