Trachoma is a bacterial infection that affects the eyes. Trachoma is contagious and spreads through contact with eyes, eyelids and nose as well as throat sections of infected people. Trachoma can also be passed on by coming into contact with infected items such as a handkerchief. While trachoma is preventable, it is the leading source of blindness in the world.
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The signs of trachoma affect both eyes and may vary depending on the phase of infection. Typical symptoms of trachoma include:
- Mild itching and irritation of the eyes and eyelids
- Discharge from both eyes. The discharge contains mucus or pus
- Swelling of the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye pain
All the symptoms associated with trachoma are more severe in the upper lid than in the lower lid. As the eyelids continue to scar, the upper lid may show a thick line. Also, the lubricating tissues in the eyelids, including the tear-producing glands (lacrimal glands) may be affected. This may result in extreme dryness, thereby aggravating the symptoms of trachoma even more.
Trachoma is caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, a subtype bacterium that is also known to cause Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease. Upon infection, Trachoma spreads through:
- Coming into contact with discharge from eye or nose of the infected person
- Coming into contact with hands, clothing or towels that are laden with Chlamydia trachomatis
- Eye-seeking flies particularly in developing countries
Poor personal and family hygiene are also known to cause blinding, endemic trachoma. Factors that may contribute to the presence of trachoma include:
- Lack of water
- Absence of latrines
- Proximity to cattle
Trachoma is usually diagnosed by physical examination of the eyes and the eyelids of the patient. The doctor uses magnifiers to check for the signs of trachoma. In the early stages, the infection may not be visible through a physical examination of the eye. Nonetheless, during advanced stages, Trachoma can lead to the scarring of the conjunctiva, and it is during this stage that the patient’s eye becomes irritated. After diagnosis, the doctor may categorize trachoma into any of the following five grades:
- Trachomatous Inflammation – Follicular (TF) – This phase requires topical treatment
- Trachomatous Inflammation – Intense (TI) – This phase requires a combination of topical and systemic treatments
- Trachomatous Scarring (TS) – This phase is characterized by visible scars in the conjunctiva
- Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) – At this phase the doctor may recommend an eyelid surgery
- Corneal Opacity – At this phase, the patient is irreversibly blind.
The treatment options for Trachoma primarily depend on the phase of the disease. Nonetheless, the doctor may prescribe medication or recommend a surgery.
Medications- Medications are given in the early stages of Trachoma. If the disease is diagnosed in its inception stages, over the counter antibiotics may be enough to treat the infection. Other medications include:
- Tetracycline eye ointment
According to the World Health Organization, it is important that antibiotics be given to an entire community if more than 10% of the population is affected by trachoma to reduce its spread.
Surgery- The doctor may recommend surgery if:
- The eyelid is overly painful
- The eyelid is deformed as result of infection
- The cornea has become clouded to a point of impairing vision