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The Eye and STIs

In Canada, the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to increase.  STIs can have an impact on your vision, so here’s what you need to know.

Chalmydia & Gonorrhea

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common STIs and both can cause conjunctivitis. The infection gets into the eye either directly through genital fluids such as semen, or when infected people rub their eyes after touching infected genital areas. Your optometrist can diagnose these eye infections when they affect your eye and recommend appropriate treatment and follow-up.

Infectious Syphilis

Syphilis is an STI that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Ocular syphilis can occur at any stage of syphilis infection. Ocular syphilis can involve almost any part of the eye structure, however the uvea is the most common location. Symptoms include vision changes, decreased visual acuity, and permanent blindness. Treatment with antibiotics, which can be prescribed by optometrists depending on the jurisdiction, will prevent disease progression, but it might not repair damage already done.

Herpes Simplex

There are two forms of Herpes Simplex. One is a common virus that causes skin and eye lesions, while the other is an STI.  As an STI, the virus can be transmitted to the eye either directly through genital fluids such as semen, or when infected people rub their eyes after touching infected genital areas. The herpes virus is known to mainly attack the cornea, but it can also damage the retina. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment, which can be prescribed by optometrists depending on the jurisdiction, is very important to minimize vision loss in these cases.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).  HBV is transmitted when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected.  A disease found in adolescents and adults, the primary risk factors associated with infection are unprotected sex with an infected partner, unprotected sex with multiple partners, and injection-drug use.  One of the earliest signs of a HBV infection is jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).  In chronic cases, HBV can cause inflammation of the retinal vessels, the optic nerve, and/or the uveal tract (tissue at the front of the eye). Depending on the jurisdiction, optometrists can provide treatment for these eye-related conditions associated with Hepatitis B infection.  

HIV/AIDS

Approximately 75-80% of HIV-infected patients will require treatment for an eye disorder at some point in their life.  The most common complication is Cytomegalovirus retinitis (CMV retinitis).  A rather harmless virus that at least 40% of the world’s population has been exposed to, CMV will not cause any problems for a healthy individual. For those with compromised immune systems, however, it may cause life threatening inflammation of the retina.  Symptoms include hazy vision, dark patches in the vision, and floaters. Treatment of both the systemic HIV and the CMV are required to control this disease. Optometrists will refer to physicians for treatment.

Pubic Lice

Pubic lice, also known as crabs, are very small insects that infest the genital area. Lice feed on human blood and cause intense itching in affected areas. Pubic lice usually live on pubic hair and are spread through sexual contact. In rare cases, they can be found in eyelashes, armpit hair, and facial hair. Pubic lice are often smaller than body and head lice. Pubic lice in eyelashes should be removed with tweezers or a nit comb, and an ophthalmic grade petrolatum ointment (available by prescription from optometrists or physicians) should be applied to the eyelid margins.  Regular Vaseline is not safe for use around the eyes and can cause irritation, and regular lice shampoos should not be used around the eyes either. 

How can I help prevent eye complications from sexually transmitted infections?

  • Wash your hands often. Do not touch or rub your eyes unless your hands are clean.
  • Never share eye makeup or cosmetics with anyone. When you have conjunctivitis, throw out all eye makeup you have been using.
  • Do not share towels, washcloths, or pillow cases with others.
  • If just one of your eyes has an infection, use a separate towel for each eye.
  • Use appropriate protection during sexual activities.

References

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