Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a group of conditions that affect individuals’ sexual health and are primarily acquired through sexual contact. All STIs can present different symptoms and manifestations with varying degrees of severity. In the United States, there are several STIs common in the population, including syphilis, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), chlamydia, and gonorrhea. In this article, we focus on how these STIs affect the eyes, their symptoms, and treatments.
Syphilis is caused by the bacterium called Treponema pallidum and can be transmitted through sexual contact or during childbirth. The most common and recognizable symptom of syphilis is a sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth. However, the prevalence of syphilis in the human eye should not be ignored. Syphilis patients may develop ocular disorders, such as uveitis, retinitis, and choroiditis, which can cause irreversible damage to the retina. In recent years, the number of cases of syphilis-associated ocular diseases increased in both the general and the HIV-infected population. Therefore, people who contract syphilis should consider regular ophthalmological evaluations. The treatment for syphilis is typically a course of antibiotics, including penicillin and doxycycline, which can cure ocular symptoms if administered in time. If the infection causes inflammation in the eyes, patients may need additional treatment such as steroids or anti-glaucoma medications to limit damage to the eyes.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight against infections. The virus can be transmitted by contact with bodily fluids. HIV-positive patients are more susceptible to developing ocular infections, particularly opportunistic infections caused by microorganisms that healthy individuals’ immune systems could usually defeat. Ocular manifestations of HIV infection include dry eye, viral retinitis, and retinal microangiopathy, ocular syphilis, and other sexually transmitted infections. In patients with low CD4 cell counts, ocular complications may develop, including specific conjunctival infections, ocular surface squamous neoplasia, and less common infections such as molluscum contagiosum. HIV patients with severe ocular infections may require invasive procedures like vitrectomy, using surgical treatments to remove the fluids inside the eye. Although a cure has not been found for HIV/AIDS, antiretroviral therapy (ART) can control the virus’s growth, prolonging life expectancy and preventing ocular complications.
Chlamydia is the most common STI in the US, and there are several strains of the bacteria that can infect the eyes. Chlamydia can cause eye infection, such as inclusion conjunctivitis or trachoma, and if left untreated, it could lead to permanent damage like corneal scarring and blindness. Chlamydia can also cause trachoma, which is responsible for over 6 million cases of blindness worldwide. Doxycycline and azithromycin are the antibiotics used to treat chlamydia. If left untreated, chlamydia can develop into pelvic inflammatory disease and lead to infertility. Educating individuals about personal hygiene, safer sexual practices, and partnering with regular testing could help to decrease STIs rates.
Gonorrhea is another STI that affects the eyes. The infection can cause an intense red eye and discharge. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to blindness and severe eye infections like endophthalmitis. Oral and injectable antibiotics are the most common treatments for the condition. Patients with severe forms of the disease may require hospitalization to receive IV antibiotics.
Our eye doctor at Local Eyes Optometry in New Braunfels, TX excels in the prescription of glasses, contact lenses and the diagnosis of a variety of eye diseases. Call our optometrist at (830) 627-9272 or schedule an eye exam appointment online if you would like to learn more about STI’s and its relation to your eyes. Our eye doctor, Dr. Marcus Page, provides the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in New Braunfels, Texas.