Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with the United States reporting over 1.5 million cases in 2020 alone. However, despite its prevalence, the percentage of chlamydia in the throat is limited to just about 2.5% of all cases. It is the manifestation of the illness in the mucosal membranes of the throat and the adjoining areas such as the oral cavity. As the numbers would suggest, the incidence of genital chlamydia is greater, with the bacteria infecting the penis, vaginal canal, and anus at higher rates.
Irrespective, chlamydia in the throat is a health concern as it can predispose people to other infections. The illness is also known to increase the risk of HIV. Chlamydia of the throat is called pharyngeal chlamydia in medical circles and can lead to serious complications if left untreated. We discuss what chlamydia is, how it can affect the throat, its symptoms, diagnosis, complications, and treatment modalities so you can be aware of the illness and its risk factors.
What is Chlamydia?
- Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis.
- The infection is most prevalent in the mucous membranes of the groin region. This includes the penis and vagina. However, it can also infect the anus and cause significant discomfort during defecation.
- Chlamydia is spread via unprotected genital, oral, and anal sex. The bacteria is primarily transmitted through genital-to-genital and oro-genital contact.
- In its less prevalent form, chlamydia affects the mucous membranes of the throat and the oral cavity.
- This occurs when someone performs unprotected oral sex upon an infected individual.
- Conversely, if someone receives unprotected oral sex from an individual suffering from chlamydia in the throat, they’re just as likely to develop the genital variant.
- However, contrary to popular understanding, chlamydia does not spread via mouth-to-mouth kissing or from toilet seats.
- Doctors don’t completely understand why chlamydia is more predisposed to infect the genital regions and the anus when compared to the throat and oral cavity.
- The tonsils, being a part of the pharynx, are also among the organs that are affected by the disease.
- It is also possible to contract chlamydia by using unclean sex toys used by an infected individual. As a result, it might be wise to avoid sharing sex toys or to use barrier protection when using them.
Chlamydia in the Throat: Symptoms
- Chlamydia of the throat can present itself in a variety of ways. With most of the proximate regions of the throat being lined by a mucous membrane, the area is a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria. Some of the symptoms of chlamydia in the throat are:
- Among the initial signs of the sexually transmissible infection in the throat, this seemingly innocuous sign is a reason why most infected individuals are oblivious to the true nature of the infection.
- Most people with a sore throat tend to ignore it, assuming it's a run-of-the-mill problem.
- This is also because pharyngeal chlamydia might feel like strep throat, a common bacterial infection.
- The involvement and subsequent swelling of the tonsils lead to pain and discomfort in the throat.
STD White Spots on Tonsils
- This symptom is closely associated with the former and arises from the involvement of the tonsils in the infection.
- It is among the classical signs of pharyngeal chlamydia.
- Visit a doctor at the earliest if you notice white spots at the back of your throat.
Redness & Inflammation of the Mouth & Throat
- The infection of the mucosa leads to inflammation across the oral cavity and pharynx.
- Referred to as stomatitis by medical professionals, it can lead to marked redness in the mouth and is also accompanied by other symptoms of inflammation such as a localized increase in temperature.
- Chlamydia infections can cause sores to develop in the mouth.
- If you notice an ulcer or a bump that does not seem to heal, it might be wise to visit a doctor and get it looked at.
- Sores might also be accompanied by pus discharge and halitosis.
Pain in the Oral Cavity
- Mouth pain is an important symptom of pharyngeal chlamydia.
- With the mucous membranes infected, inflammation, and even sores in the mouth can cause generalized pain in the oral cavity.
Sores & Bumps on the Lips and Tongue
- White bumps on the lips that do not go away, or those that erupt into sores, can be signs of chlamydia in the external oral cavity.
- Similar sores can also affect the tongue in cases of pharyngeal chlamydia.
Swollen & Palpable Lymph Nodes in the Neck
- Due to the generalized infection of the oral mucosa and the pharynx, the lymph nodes in the surrounding regions such as the neck become inflamed.
- The inflamed nodes are easily palpable and are essential to the diagnosis of the illness.
Tooth loss & Dental Issues
- When ignored, chlamydia of the throat can involve dental structures and periodontal tissues like the gums.
- Gum inflammation and damage of the ligaments holding the teeth can subsequently cause tooth pain and tooth loss.
- Bleeding of gums is also a commonly associated symptom in cases of prolonged throat chlamydia.
- Chlamydia can cause fever, which in combination with a sore throat can mislead individuals into thinking it’s the regular flu.
Malaise & Fatigue
- The prolonged involvement of the immune system in combating the infection can cause malaise, body aches, and generalized fatigue.
A Comparison with Genital & Anal Chlamydia Symptoms
- Understanding the symptoms of genital and anal chlamydia can help better contrast the pharyngeal variety’s differences from its counterparts. The symptoms of genital and anal chlamydia include:
- Burning during urination
- Painful ejaculation in men
- White, yellow, or gray-colored, foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Painful and swollen testicles
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Watery or mucus-like discharge from the penis
- Itching and burning around the penile opening
- Burning and itching around the anus
- Pain during defecation
- Itching around the base of the penis and scrotum
- Swelling of the penile head
- Sores around the vulva
- Chlamydia, be it in the throat or around the genitals, is a result of unprotected sexual contact. This includes genital, anal, and oral sex.
- Individuals can also contract the disease due to contact with infected genital fluids and discharge.
- You can develop genital or anal chlamydia upon receiving oral sex from infected individuals suffering from chlamydia of the throat.
- Indulging in unprotected sexual contact of any form is the most prevalent risk factor for chlamydia.
- Having multiple sexual partners also predisposes people to an increased risk.
- A history of having contracted other STDs also predisposes one to greater risk. This also includes a previous history of chlamydia, as it can re-infect individuals.
- While complete abstinence is the only preventative measure against the illness, barrier protection such as condoms and dental dams are effective methods too.
- Avoiding sexual contact following a positive diagnosis also helps stop the spread of the illness to an uninfected partner.
Complications of Chlamydia
- Prolonged, untreated chlamydia leads to a host of potentially serious complications. These include:
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: This can occur due to the spread of bacteria from the vagina to the upper reproductive organs such as the uterus and fallopian tubes. It is characterized by pelvic discomfort, lower abdominal pain, and high fever.
- Reactive arthritis: Infections like chlamydia can lead to joint pain and inflammation. This occurs due to a disproportionate response from the body’s immune system to the invading bacteria.
- Ectopic pregnancy: Chlamydia raises the risk of ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterine wall.
- Conjunctivitis: An infection of the conjunctiva can occur due to chlamydia.
- Infertility: Chlamydia carries the risk of permanently damaging reproductive organs in both men and women, leading to an increased probability of infertility.
- Epididymitis: The bacteria-causing chlamydia can also infect the epididymis - the structure that carries sperm out of the testicles.
Diagnosing Chlamydia in the Throat
- While a conventional STD panel can scan for genital chlamydia, pharyngeal chlamydia is often not included in the scan.
- Though urine scans & UTI testing options such as those provided by Lenco laboratory are the norms for checking genital chlamydia, doctors will look for chlamydia in your throat only if you show relevant symptoms.
- Swab tests are often used by medical professionals to detect chlamydia of the throat.
- The doctor will collect a sample of infected tissue by swabbing your throat and send it to the laboratory for analysis.
- The lab will run a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) to detect the bacterial DNA in the tissue samples to confirm the infection.
- The doctor will also ask you for a detailed medical, surgical, and sexual history to arrive at an appropriate diagnosis.
How to Treat Chlamydia in the Throat
- Doctors use antibiotics to treat pharyngeal chlamydia, just like the prescribed modality for its genital counterpart.
- The course is often for one week. If the infection does not resolve following the antibiotic course, your doctor might increase the dosage or prescribe a more potent antibiotic.
- Your physician will also advise you to abstain from any form of sexual contact until you’ve completed your complete course of antibiotics to avoid spreading the infection to others.
- Though the genital strain of the STI is most prevalent, the throat variety can be just as serious in the long term.
- Be sure to get in touch with your healthcare provider if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above.
- Make it a point to practice safe sex to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections.