Trachoma is a painful eye infection caused by a bacteria, which with repeated exposure could result in blindness when it’s not treated. It is a global neglected tropical disease that eventually scars the eyelid, causing the eyelashes to lean inwards, and with every blink, the cornea faces potential impairment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Trachoma is the global cause of visual impairments in an estimated 1.9 million persons across 42 countries, with an additional 125 million living in endemic areas, at potential risk of being infected.
Overview Of Trachoma
The infection is caused when the eye comes in contact with the bacteria, Chlamydia trachomatis through direct contact with discharge from an infected person or indirect transmission via infected flies, carrying discharge from infected persons.
With continuous exposure to this bacteria, it results in trichiasis, a painful condition that may permanently damage the eyes. It is an endemic disease easily transmitted among young children living in affected areas, and sometimes adults around the age of 30-40 years. Most times, this renders them disabled, leading to poverty, limited access to education and other services.
Transmission Of Trachoma
The infection spreads via contact with discharge from infected eyes or nose, clothings or hands of an infected person. Also, certain flies may act as carriers of the bacteria. Usually after exposure, it takes 5 to 13 days for mild symptoms such as itching to manifest. With repeated infection, serious symptoms begin to occur.
Symptoms And Diagnosis Of The Infection
The common symptoms of Trachoma are red, itchy eyes, scarring of the eyelids, discharge in the eyes, blurry vision, extreme pain in the eyes, discharge from the nose, inwards leaning of the eyelashes, et cetera. During diagnosis, doctors usually look for all symptoms during a physical examination or carry out a laboratory test on fluids taken from the infected eye.
Treatment And Cure
Trachoma is generally treated with the use of antibiotics, which aids in gradually reducing its transmission rate. However, each treatment depends on the stage of the infection.
☑️ Early Stage
At this stage, an infected person is given antibiotics annually to eliminate the bacteria. They can also apply eye ointment around the affected eye. To reduce the transmission of Trachoma, mass antibiotics intake are recommended in communities with high prevalence.
☑️ Trichiasis Stage
An apparent symptom of this stage is almost or total eye deformity. The eyelids are scarred and the eyelashes bent inwards, scraping the cornea. Here, infected persons may require surgery to avoid blindness, depending on the level of impairments. Common surgical procedures are eyelid rotation surgery to correct the position of the eyelashes to avoid scraping, cornea transplantation to repair damaged vision and epilation; the repeated removal of eyelashes (in rare cases).
Prevention Of Trachoma
The commonest causes of the transmission are poor hygiene, crowded houses, poor availability of water and inaccessibility to proper sanitation. Therefore, the most effective way of preventing this infection is by practicing body cleanliness and environmental sanitation such as cleaning of waste water, drainages, burning or discarding of refuse, etc.
People living in endemic communities and families living with infected people can prevent transmission by avoiding contact with items used by infected persons, and practicing personal hygiene such as regular washing of hands, and avoid touching of the eyes. They should always ensure to wash and keep their faces, hands and clothing clean from dirt and flies. When they feel they have contacted the bacteria, antibiotics are most effective at the early stage of infection.
Trachoma is a public health burden and an irreversible cause of eye blindness affecting millions of people, particularly young children. Despite public fears, there is a treatment to the alarming infection. In 2020, around 30 million cases were treated with antibiotics, while few chronic cases required surgeries. Preventive measures are the most recommended ways of eradicating Trachoma in the world.
If you or your family have been in an affected area and feel itchy in the eye, do not panic. It is best to visit the doctor for a physical examination, as one infection can easily be cured with azithromycin.