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5-minute read

Key facts

  • Trachoma is a preventable eye infection you can catch from contact with fluid from the eyes and nose of infected people.
  • Active trachoma can cause red, sticky eyes
  • Sometimes children can have no symptoms.
  • Repeated infection can cause visual impairment, including blindness if left untreated.
  • Trachoma can be treated with a single dose of antibiotic and prevented with good hygiene.

What is trachoma?

Trachoma is a preventable eye infection caused by the bacterium chlamydia trachomatis. If not treated, this infection can cause your eyelids to turn inwards. This causes trichiasis - when your eyelashes rub on your eyeball, causing pain and damaging the surface of your eye. Repeated infections can cause blindness.

Australia is the only developed country with blinding trachoma. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote areas of Australia at highest risk.

What causes trachoma?

The bacteria that cause trachoma are spread through direct contact with fluid from the eyes and nose of infected people. The bacteria can also be found on personal items such as face cloths. Flies that touch infected eyes can also spread the bacteria between people.

As trachoma is easily transmitted between children, the condition often starts in childhood, but anybody can get infected at any age. People who have repeated infections since childhood may develop visual impairment or blindness, usually in their 30 or 40s.

What living conditions are linked to increased risk of trachoma?

Trachoma is more common in areas where a lot of people live close together, especially if there is poor hygiene due to limited access to water and poor toilet facilities.

What are the symptoms of trachoma?

If you’re infected with trachoma, your eyes might be red, sticky, itchy, or painful. You might also have discharge from your nose. In later stages, you might feel a gritty sensation, as if you have sand in your eyes.

Often, children with trachoma don’t have symptoms.

Trachoma is most common in small children but scarring and in-turned eyelashes (trichiasis) are usually found in older people.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How will I be diagnosed with trachoma?

Your doctor can diagnose trachoma by talking to you and examining your eyes. Your doctor may also take a swab of fluid from your eyes to test for bacteria.

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ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

What treatment will I need for trachoma?

Active trachoma is treated with a single dose of an antibiotic called azithromycin. Your household contacts should also be treated. If you have trichiasis, your doctor may refer you to an eye surgeon to correct it.

How can I prevent trachoma?

Simple steps to improve hygiene can be very effective, such as teaching children good hygiene (thorough face-washing and handwashing) and making sure family members don’t share towels and face cloths.

If you have a sore eye, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Improving access to clean water, improved sanitation and reducing overcrowding can help the stop trachoma from spreading.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have high rates of trachoma. Adults in communities where trachoma is common should be screened for trichiasis every year.

Culturally-specific information and resources for health practitioners are available through the Indigenous Eye Health Unit.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

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