What Is Trachoma?

Trachoma is an infection of the eyes that affects the inner upper eyelid and cornea. It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Repeated infections lead to scarring of the inner eyelid, thickening of the conjunctiva, and distortion of the eyelid. The eyelashes turn in and begin to rub against the eye, leading to corneal scarring and, if left untreated, blindness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that six million people worldwide are blind from trachoma and more than 150 million people are in need of treatment. Globally, the disease results in an estimated $2.9 billion in lost productivity each year.


  • Conjunctivitis
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Turned-in eyelashes
  • Swelling of lymph nodes just in front of the ears
  • Cloudy cornea

Risk Factors

More than 10 percent of the world's population is at risk of blindness from trachoma, which is widespread in the poorest regions of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and in some parts of Latin American and Australia. Children are especially susceptible to the early, inflammatory stage of the disease, which generally occurs in overcrowded conditions where there is limited access to clean water and health care. Trachoma can easily spread from person to person by hands, clothing, or flies that have come in contact with discharge from the eyes or nose of an infected person. Women are two to three times more likely than men to become blind from trachoma.


Primary interventions for preventing trachoma infection include improved sanitation, reduction of fly breeding sites and increased facial cleanliness (with clean water). Good personal and environmental hygiene including the washing of faces, improved access to clean water, and proper disposal of human and animal waste has been shown to decrease the number of trachoma infections in communities.


Early treatment with antibiotics can prevent long-term complications. Tetracycline eye ointment can be applied directly to the eye over a period of six weeks. Oral azithromycin is just as effective and is the treatment of choice. In cases where scarring of the lid has already occurred, a simple surgical procedure to reverse turned in lashes may be necessary to prevent chronic scarring of the cornea.



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