Trachoma is one of the world’s oldest diseases. It is also the number one cause of preventable blindness. It is a disease that is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachmatis. You can get this disease by coming in contact with the bacteria. It can be transmitted through contact with fluids from the eye, throat or nose as well as through towels and even clothing. In some instances even flies can spread the disease. Today it an estimated 41 million people have an active form of this infection and are in serious need of medical treatment. If they don’t receive the treatment they need they will likely eventually suffer from blindness.
A Brief History of Trachoma
Trachoma was once a common disease in both the United States and in Europe. Before immigrants could enter the United States through Ellis Island they had the insides of their eyelids examined for signs of the disease. If trachoma was discovered the immigrant had a 90% chance of being returned to their home country. It is most common in countries and areas with poor living conditions and was practically eliminated from Europe without antibiotics due to lifestyle changes.
This disease is still a common disease and regularly causes permanent and irreversible blindness. It is estimated that 41 million people are in need of treatment for this disease. Of these 8.2 million have an advanced stage of the disease and will eventually go blind without surgery.
The disease is most common in poor areas. Lack of clean water and proper sanitation can increase the occurrence of this disease. There 57 countries where this disease is commonly found, many of these are in Africa.
How Does Trachoma Cause Blindness?
Trachoma can take many years to lead to blindness. The disease is commonly contracted during childhood. At first the symptoms of the disease will appear to go away on their own, however they will reoccur throughout life. This disease then becomes chronic. After many infections the eyelid can start to turn inward. This occurs when scar tissue forms on the tissue on the inside of the eyelid.
Once this occurs a simple surgery is needed or blindness is eminent. Once the eyelid turns the eyelashes rub against the eye. This is extremely painful. As the eyelashes rub against the eye they scratch the outer layer of the eye which eventually leads to scarring and blindness. This blindness is preventable, but once it occurs it is irreversible. Blindness typically occurs around 30 to 40 years of age.
What Are the Symptoms of Trachoma?
If you are infected with trachoma you will typically notice symptoms in about 5 to 12 days. One of the first symptoms is inflammation of the tissue lining the eyelids. This is known as conjunctivitis, or more commonly pink eye. Other symptoms include a cloudy cornea, discharge from the eye, swollen eyelids and lymph node swelling in front of the ears. As the disease progresses turned in eyelids are common. In the early stages those with the disease may feel like their eyes are sticky or itchy. In later stages it may feel like sand or insects are stuck in the eye.
What Kind of Treatment is Available?
Treatment for this disease can cure it and prevent blindness for ever happening. Antibiotics are very effective if the disease is discovered and diagnosed in the early stages. If the eyelid has turned inside out a simple surgery is needed.
Since the disease is highly contagious and is commonly spread through close contact it is common for this disease to be spread through several members of the same family or community. In countries where many are impacted by this disease a strategy known as the SAFE strategy is used to treat and prevent trachoma. This treatment method is endorsed by the World Health Organization.
What is SAFE?
SAFE is a 4 stage treatment process that has shown dramatic results in eliminating trachoma and improving quality of life. Each letter in the name SAFE stands for one of the components in the treatment process. The first stage is Surgery which is followed by treatment with antibiotics. These treatment options help to clear up the condition. Then the next 2 stages of the treatment strategy are implemented to keep trachoma from reoccurring. These 2 stages are Facial cleanliness and implementing Environmental change by increasing access to clean water and sanitation.
While trachoma does cause permanent blindness, it is treatable and blindness is completely preventable. It is currently the number one cause of preventable blindness in the world.
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