Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. This infection can lead to painful health problems if left untreated.
Although STIs primarily affect the genital areas, it’s possible that STIs like chlamydia can be spread via oral sex and cause throat problems. Doctors call chlamydia in the throat a pharyngeal chlamydia infection.
It’s possible, but not likely, that you could get chlamydia in your throat. To understand how or why it could happen, it’s important to consider how chlamydia is transmitted.
A person can get chlamydia when their mucus membranes, such as the vagina, penis, or rectum, come in contact with chlamydia bacteria. These bacteria enter these mucus membranes and multiply.
Chlamydia doesn’t always cause symptoms, and if not treated, the infection can result in damage that can’t be reversed.
The most common way chlamydia is spread is through unprotected anal or vaginal sex. The bacteria typically infect and cause symptoms in the location they first entered the body.
It’s possible — but less likely — that a person can transmit chlamydia via oral sex to the mouth or throat and can have symptoms there. However, you cannot get chlamydia from mouth to mouth kissing.
For a reason doctors don’t fully understand, chlamydia bacteria more easily infect the groin area, such as the vagina, penis, or rectum, than the mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports chlamydia is not thought to be a significant form of throat infection, and you are less likely to get chlamydia in the throat compared to the genital area.
Chlamydia in the throat often causes no symptoms. Some people with throat infections may only have a sore or swollen throat and think is due to a common cold or flu virus.
Chlamydia throat infection symptoms
- sore throat
- dental problems
- mouth pain
- mouth sores that don’t heal
- sores around lips and mouth
However, you can be infected in both the throat and genital area. In addition to a sore throat, you may have chlamydia symptoms in your genitals.
Genital chlamydia symptoms
- burning while urinating
- pain or swelling in the testicles
- rectal pain
- unusual discharge from the penis or vagina that may be bloody in appearance
While throat infections due to chlamydia may not cause significant symptoms, you can still have chlamydia in your throat and can pass it on to someone else. That’s why, if you have symptoms of chlamydia or think you may have been exposed, it’s better to be tested and treated.
Doctors have several tests they can use to screen for chlamydia. Note that screening for chlamydia in the throat isn’t a part of usual STI testing.
If you’ve had a sore throat that doesn’t seem to go away or have a partner that you’ve had oral sex with who tested positive for chlamydia , you may ask your doctor about pharyngeal chlamydia screening.
Doctors can use urine samples to diagnose chlamydia, but that doesn’t help them target if the chlamydia is in the throat.
As a result, a doctor may swab your throat to test for chlamydia there. They send this swab to a laboratory, which tests the specimen for the presence of DNA from the bacteria that cause chlamydia.
This test is a little tricky because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved a swab test for pharyngeal chlamydia. Your throat contains a lot of bacteria and this can make it hard to pinpoint chlamydia bacteria.
When a doctor uses a swab to test for chlamydia in the throat, it’s possible they’re doing so in an “off-label” fashion. This means the FDA hasn’t specifically given the okay to use the test for pharyngeal chlamydia, but some doctors think swabs can help in detection.
Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics. The same antibiotics a doctor prescribes to treat chlamydia in the groin may also be prescribed to treat chlamydia in the throat.
Avoid oral sex or intercourse for at least seven days if you’re taking a one-time antibiotic dose. If you take a longer course, you should wait until you’ve taken all your medication before having sex again.
If you’ve been treated for chlamydia before, you can get it again. Treatments also can stop complications you may have already experienced due to chlamydia. After treatment, it’s a good idea to always have protected sex (sex with a condom or oral sex with a condom or dental dam) to avoid a new infection.
If you have chlamydia, you may be more vulnerable to other STIs, including HIV. According to the CDC, having chlamydia in the throat “might” increase the risk for getting HIV.
Having chlamydia in the throat can make you more vulnerable to other infections. Your body is so busy fighting off the chlamydia bacteria, it doesn’t fend off other infections as effectively. This can cause problems such as mouth infections, tooth loss, gum disease, or dental pain.
Risks of untreated chlamydia infections
- increased risks for ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that implants outside the uterus which can be a life-threatening emergency)
- increased risks for preterm delivery in pregnant women
- inflammation of the upper genital tract
- pelvic inflammatory disease, a condition that affects fertility
- perihepatitis, an inflammation in the capsule that surrounds the liver
- reactive arthritis, a form of inflammatory arthritis
Chlamydia — wherever it occurs — is easy to treat. It’s important to know that oral sex isn’t a safer alternative to intercourse as you can still get STIs like chlamydia. If you think you may have been exposed to chlamydia, talk to your doctor and get tested.