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What is Trachoma?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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Trachoma is an infection of the eye that specifically affects the cornea and the eyelid. Caused by the presence of bacteria, this health issue can cause scarring that minimizes the quality of vision. If not treated in time, the scarring can lead to blindness.

There are two main ways that trachoma is spread. Both have to do with the transfer of the bacteria through contact with the discharge from the eye or nose of an infected person. This transfer takes place by wiping the bacteria away using a cloth, paper tissues, or the fingers. If the finger, cloth, or tissue is then used to wipe the eyes or nose of another individual, the bacteria is transferred to a new host and has the chance to set up an infection. Normally, washing the cloth and the hands in hot soapy water is enough to kill the bacteria.

There is also some evidence that flies can transfer trachoma. The bacteria is picked up when the fly lands on a host, and is deposited as the fly lands on another individual. While the spread of the disease in this manner is rare in countries where flies are kept at bay, this method of transfer is common in many countries where flies are found in abundance, even in populated areas.

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Trachoma symptoms often begin with a sense of discomfort in the eye, almost as if a grain of sand has gotten under the eyelid. As the infections begins to build, the eyelid will swell, and there will be some redness in the eye. As the conditions worsens, a discharge will begin to form at the corner of the eye, followed by increased difficulty in seeing clearly. Eventually, scarring of the cornea will take place, causing a partial or complete loss of vision.

Fortunately, all the symptoms of trachoma can be treated successfully. Antibiotics can bring the bacteria under control and allow the body to kill off the infection. In severe cases, it may be necessary to undergo surgery to correct any problems that may have developed, such as the inward turning of the eyelashes due to the swelling of the eyelid.

There are several ways to aid trachoma treatment and prevention. The most effective means is to practice good hygiene. This means washing the hands frequently, never allowing dirty linen or tissues to touch the eye or nose, and keeping the eyes properly hydrated. In addition, steps should be taken to minimize the exposure to flies as much as possible. In situations where this is very difficult, such as working on a cattle farm, it is a good idea to wear eye protection.

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