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By: Karen Terry

June 3, 2022

Can You Get an STI in the Eye?

People don’t often associate STDs with the eyes, but some sexually transmitted infections can spread to the wet, mucousy part of your eye, known as the conjunctiva. This vulnerable area is similar to surfaces on or around the genitals that STIs commonly infect, but getting an STI in the eye can lead to severe damage and vision loss.

Eye Infections Due to STDs

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) spread through mucosal surfaces, the tissues on your body that produce mucus in areas such as your mouth, genitals, and urethra. The area around your eyes, the conjunctiva, also has porous mucus membranes where STIs can find their way into the body. 

Only certain STIs are a danger to your eyes since not all of them are infectious through the skin or mucosal surfaces.


The bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis can cause eye infection through direct or indirect contact, meaning you could pick it up from a person who has chlamydia or surfaces they’ve touched. If you have chlamydia, you can also spread the bacteria by rubbing your eyes after touching infected areas like the genitals. 

The infection, also known as trachoma, causes inflammation of the conjunctiva (the eye’s surface and inner eyelid) and scarring, leading to vision damage or blindness in severe cases. 

Developing countries with high cases of chlamydia struggle with infectious blindness due to the widespread bacteria. Since the bacteria spread through contact, these countries encourage frequent hand and face washing. However, swift treatment with antibiotics by mouth or drops in the eye can prevent severe infections that cause eye damage. 

Symptoms of a Chlamydia trachomatis eye infection include: 

  • Swollen eyelids
  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Tears and discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes near eyes
  • Light sensitivity


The bacterium that causes gonorrhea is Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which passes on through contact with the body’s mucus membranes during sexual activity. These susceptible areas include the throat, urethra, rectum, and cervix. 

While the risk is low for adults, it’s possible to contract a gonorrhea eye infection if fluids like semen, urine, or vaginal discharge get into your eye during sex with a partner who has gonorrhea. However, it’s more likely for adults to infect themselves by touching their eyes after getting the infected fluids on their hands. 

Gonorrhea eye infection is more common in newborns who contract it while passing through their mother’s infected birth canal during labor and delivery. 

Gonorrhea STI eye symptoms include: 

  • Discharge or crust around the eye
  • Swelling of the eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pain or difficulty opening the eye
  • Redness 

Without antibiotic treatment, gonorrhea eye infections can lead to corneal damage that causes partial vision loss or blindness.


A syphilis eye infection, also known as ocular syphilis, can happen as a result of catching the STI and leaving it untreated. It can show up at any stage of the infection, and the symptoms can be hard to recognize because they imitate the signs of other eye conditions. 

During the early stage of syphilis (primary syphilis), sores might appear on your eyelid or in the eye's conjunctiva. After several weeks when secondary syphilis develops, you might notice a rash on your eye or more severe symptoms, such as: 

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Loss of eyelashes and eyebrow hair
  • Redness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision
  • Inflammation
  • Yellowish lesions in the retina 

Symptoms of ocular syphilis can come and go throughout the development of the disease, but complications can lead to serious eye conditions, including loss of vision. Doctors can treat ocular syphilis with penicillin injections and other medications to control symptoms and prevent damage to the eye.


The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes ocular herpes, which most commonly affects your eye’s cornea. Signs of this infection include pain, redness, inflammation, and lesions on the cornea. If herpes spreads deeper into your eye (the stroma), it can cause loss of vision and blindness. 

HSV affects a large population of the U.S., making it one of the leading causes of infectious blindness in the country. Proper treatment with antiviral medication prevents ocular herpes from getting out of control and causing permanent damage to the cornea. 

Unlike other STIs on this list, ocular herpes doesn’t pass to someone through sexual activity. When someone contracts herpes, it’s in their body for the rest of their life. A person with HSV typically experiences eye herpes symptoms during flare-ups. Learn about contracting STDs without sex. 

Herpes eye infection STI symptoms include: 

  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye pain
  • Tearing and mucus discharge
  • Redness
  • Painful rash 

Find out if you have herpes with same-day STD testing at a Rapid STD Testing center near you.

Treatment for STI in the Eye

Treatment for STI in the eye depends on the STI. Some, like chlamydia, need antibiotics to heal, while others require antiviral drugs, penicillin injections, or medical eye drops. 

If you go to the doctor for an STI eye infection, they’ll clean out your eye with saline and give you the appropriate medication to kill off the infection, which may be a shot in your arm or thigh. Your doctor might prescribe ointments and painkillers for relief, depending on your symptoms. 

The earlier you get medical assistance, the more eye damage you will prevent and the less likely you are to experience vision loss. Since your eye condition might be infectious, your partner should also get a check-up. 

Learn whether urgent care can do STD testing

How to Prevent STI Eye Infections

Since STI eye infections spread through contact, they are easy to prevent if you’re careful. To minimize your chances of catching an eye infection from an STI, you should: 

  • Wash your hands and face often
  • Not rub your eyes or touch your face without washing your hands
  • Not share towels, pillows, or makeup with other people
  • Throw away makeup that you used when you had an eye infection
  • Always use a condom during sex
  • Get a rapid STD test after unprotected sex 

STI eye infections are more common in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, so it’s essential to take extra care when traveling to these regions. Practice good hygiene, avoid flies, and ensure that you have access to clean water.


An STI in the eyes can cause symptoms that range from mildly uncomfortable to severely damaging to your vision. Take care of your eye health before it’s too late. At Rapid STD Testing, we offer a 10-panel STD test so you can identify STIs before they get out of control. Call us today at (866) 872-1888.


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By: Karen Terry
June 3, 2022

With a profound passion for making intricate medical information accessible to all, John possesses a unique ability to simplify complex concepts without sacrificing accuracy or depth. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of various healthcare fields, John is well-versed in the latest research and advancements. However, what truly sets him apart is his remarkable talent for distilling this wealth of knowledge into engaging, reader-friendly content.