What is it?

Trachoma is an infectious eye condition. The infection usually begins in early childhood and often leads to the eyelashes turning inwards (trichiasis).

Sight loss from trachoma happens over time. When the eyelashes turn in, they scratch the cornea (the clear front surface of the eye). Eventually, the cornea becomes too scratched for light to pass through. It’s a major cause of blindness in many developing countries.

  • Causes

    Trachoma is triggered by repeat infection with bacteria known as Chlamydia trachomatis. The infection makes the lining of the eyelid (the conjunctiva) become inflamed.

    The infection itself can be treated with antibiotics, but the inflammation can last long after the bacteria are gone. Long-term (chronic) inflammation makes the conjunctiva scarred and tight. This is what pulls the eyelashes inwards.

  • Symptoms

    The first symptoms of infection include discharge from the eyes, redness and irritated eyes. Later on, the eyes get inflamed and scar. It’s painful when the eyelashes rub the cornea.

  • Treatments

    The infection causing trachoma can be cured with antibiotics, but the condition often continues and gets worse because of repeated infection and long-term inflammation.

    Eyelid surgery can be done to correct the lashes that have turned inwards. The aim is to prevent pain and sight loss, but it doesn’t always work as the inflammation may still continue.

  • Research

    In order to prevent blindness from trachoma it is very important to understand how and why eye inflammation can continue even after the initial infection is gone. If we can find out, it may be possible to develop a treatment to control the inflammation so that the eyelashes never turn inward and scar the cornea.

    Read our research projects

Last updated August 2015
Dr Matthew Burton, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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