• <div class="section1"> Definition

    Trachoma, which is also called granular conjunctivitis or Egyptian ophthalmia, is a contagious, chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes of the eyes, caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. It is characterized by swelling of the eyelids, sensitivity to light, and eventual scarring of the conjunctivae and corneas of the eyes.


    Trachoma is a major cause of blindness in the world. It is found in the Far East, as well as countries with desert climates. In the United States, it is most common among certain Native Americans and in parts of Appalachia. The infection is highly contagious in its early stages. Blindness results from recurrent untreated infections.

    The conjunctiva is the clear mucous membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part (sclera) of the eye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva.

    Causes and symptoms

    Trachoma is caused by C. trachomatis, a parasitic organism closely related to bacteria. It is transmitted by insects, by hand-to-eye contact, or by the sharing of infected handkerchiefs or towels. The incubation period is about a week.

    The early symptoms of trachoma include the development of follicles (small sacs) on the conjunctivae of the upper eyelids, pain, swollen eyelids, a discharge, tearing, and sensitivity to light. If the infection is not treated, the follicles develop into large yellow or gray pimples, and small blood vessels develop inside the cornea. In most cases, both eyes are infected.

    Repeated infections eventually lead to contraction and turning-in of the eyelids, scarring of the corneas and conjunctivae, eventual blockage of the tear ducts, and blindness.


    Diagnosis is based on a combination of the patient's history (especially living or traveling in areas with high rates of trachoma) and examination of the eyes. The doctor will look for the presence of follicles or scarring. He or she will take a small sample of cells from the patient's conjunctivae and examine them, following a procedure called Giemsa staining, to confirm the diagnosis.


    Treatment of early-stage trachoma consists of four to six weeks of antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, erythromycin, or sulfonamides. Antibiotics should be given without waiting for laboratory test results. Treatment may combine oral medication with antibiotic ointment applied directly to the eyes. A single-dose treatment with azithromycin is an alternative method. Tetracyclines should not be given to pregnant women or children below the age of seven years.

    Patients with complications from untreated or repeated infections are treated surgically. Surgery can be used for corneal transplantation or to correct eyelid deformities.


    The prognosis for full recovery is excellent if the patient is treated promptly. If the infection has progressed to the stage of follicle development, prevention of blindness depends on the severity of the follicles, the presence of additional bacterial infections, and the development of scarring.


    There are vaccines available that offer temporary protection against trachoma, but there is no permanent immunization. Prevention depends upon good hygiene and public health measures:

    • seek treatment immediately if a child shows signs of eye infection, and minimize his or her contact with other children
    • teach children to wash hands carefully before touching their eyes
    • protect children from flies or gnats that settle around the eyes
    • if someone has trachoma (or any eye infection), do not share towels, pillowcases, etc; Wash items well
    • if medications are prescribed, follow the doctor's instructions carefully

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.

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