Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Trachoma is an eye infection

Trachoma is an eye infection
beginning of content


2-minute read

Trachoma is an eye infection that can lead to blindness. Australia is the only developed country in the world with trachoma. Trachoma infection can be managed with support from health practitioners. Knowing the causes and symptoms can help to prevent trachoma.

What is trachoma?

Trachoma is an eye infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. If not treated, this infection can cause eyelids to turn inwards, so that eyelashes rub on the eyeball, damaging the surface of the eye. This is called trichiasis, and is very painful. Repeated infections can cause blindness.

What causes trachoma?

The bacteria that causes trachoma is spread through direct contact with fluid from the eyes and nose of infected people. The bacteria can also be on personal items such as facecloths. Flies that have been in contact with infected eyes can also carry 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 can go blind in their 30s.

Trachoma is more common in areas where there is:

  • a lot of people living close together
  • poor access to water
  • poor toilet facilities
  • poor hygiene

Trachoma symptoms

Infected eyes might feel sticky, itchy, or be painful and there might be a discharge from the nose. In later stages a person might feel as if they have sand in their eyes.

Trachoma diagnosis

Health practitioners can diagnose trachoma using magnifiers and a flashlight. They might also take photographs of the eyes.

Trachoma treatment

Australia uses the World Health Organization recommended SAFE strategy. This consists of:

  • Surgery - eyelid surgery corrects in-turning of eyelashes
  • Antibiotics - to treat infection
  • Facial cleanliness - to stop infection spreading to others, and reduce re-infection
  • Environmental improvements – including improved sanitation and water facilities for households and communities

Trachoma prevention

Australian health practitioners follow national guidelines to manage trachoma.

These guidelines include simple steps you can take to prevent the spread of infection. These include teaching children good hygiene (thorough face-washing and hand-washing) and making sure family members don’t share towels and facecloths.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have high rates of trachoma.

Health services can provide information on prevention and treatment of trachoma, and refer people to eye specialists.

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

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

Last reviewed: March 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

The National Trachoma Program | Fred Hollows

Fred wanted trachoma eradicated from Australia. In the 1970's, he led a medical program to visit over 100,000 people in remote Australia. Learn more.

Read more on Fred Hollows Foundation website

Trachoma disease - causes & treatment - Fred Hollows

Trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world today. Learn more.

Read more on Fred Hollows Foundation website

Childhood eye diseases and conditions - Fred Hollows

Childhood blindness, caused by cataract, trachoma, and retinopathy of prematurity, affects three out of four children who live in poverty. Find out more.

Read more on Fred Hollows Foundation website

Indigenous Australia Program | Fred Hollows

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander adults are six times more likely to go blind, but 94% of this is preventable or treatable. Here's what we're doing about it.

Read more on Fred Hollows Foundation website

Common eye infections | Australian Prescriber

Antibiotic drops are not the treatment for all red eyes. An incorrect diagnosis can increase the risk of loss of vision.

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Stye -

A stye (sty) is an infection of a follicle or gland at the base of an eyelash, caused by bacteria, usually Staphylococcus. It happens when the follicle becomes clogged with oil or dirt.

Read more on myDr website

Eyelid and eyelash problems -

Common eye problems include inflammation and infection of the eyelids and eyelashes, also called blepharitis and styes. Find out what products are available for eyelid and eyelash problems.

Read more on myDr website

Stye treatment: babies, kids & teens | Raising Children Network

A stye is a small pimple that forms at the base of an eyelash. Styes mostly get better by themselves. Find out about stye treatment and when to see a GP.

Read more on website

Styes - Better Health Channel

Styes may be red and sore, but they generally do not cause any damage to the eye or eyelids.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dry eye - Better Health Channel

A person suffering from dry eye syndrome does not have enough of the right kind of tears to keep the eye comfortable.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo