Beyond the bedroom: How STIs are affecting vision across America


An increase in sexually transmitted infections may be causing an increase in number of eye infections.

©Kate /

(Image Credit: ©Kate -

An increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the US may be causing an increase in number of eye infections, according to Catherine Heyman, OD, FAAO, founding dean of High Point University's School of Optometry in High Point, North Carolina.

In an interview with Newsweek,1 Heyman said “optometrists have seen an increase in eye infections caused by STIs." Furthermore, Hayman said "all eye infections caused by STIs can be very serious and cause permanent vision loss if not treated urgently. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause conjunctivitis, leading to redness, itchiness, and discharge. They may also bring blurred vision due to mucous or pus, and sensitivity to light.”

"Ocular syphilis can affect almost any part of the eye and can cause a wide range of vision problems, including uveitis, retinitis, and optic neuritis, which can lead to blurred vision, vision loss, or visual field defects,” said Heyman.

If left untreated, these infections can cause corneal damage and long-term vision impairment according to Heyman.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are among the most common STIs, and when left untreated, can lead to serious health complications, including infertility.

According to the CDC, from 2017 to 2021 overall reported STI cases increased by 7%, while gonorrhea cases increased by 28% and total syphilis cases increased about 74%.2

Heyman explained how STIs can travel to the eyes by stating, it can happen from "direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person," or if an infected person "touches their eye after touching the infected area."

According to Heyman, it is important to be aware of these issues because "these infections can be initially misdiagnosed and managed incorrectly because they masquerade as a less severe infection, allowing the infection to worsen before proper treatment is initiated.”

Heyman stressed that proper hygiene and using protection during sexual activity are vital to preventing the spread of STIs and eye infections caused by them.

  1. Looking In Someone's Eyes Can Reveal If They Have An STI. Newsweek. Accessed October 2, 2023.
  2. Reported STDs in the United States, 2021. Accessed October 2, 2023.
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