Chlamydia is an STI that’s not always accompanied by symptoms. However, if left untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious complications.

Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. People who have chlamydia often don’t have outward symptoms in the early stages.

In fact, it’s estimated that 40 to 96 percent of people with chlamydia have no symptoms. But chlamydia can still cause health problems later.

Untreated chlamydia can cause serious complications, so it’s important to get regular screenings and talk with your doctor or another healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Symptoms of chlamydia may be similar to symptoms of other STIs.

How is chlamydia transmitted?

Sex without a condom or other barrier method and oral sex without a barrier method are the main ways a chlamydia infection can be transmitted.

Penetration doesn’t have to occur to contract it. Touching genitals together may transmit the bacteria. It can also be contracted during anal sex.

Newborn babies can acquire chlamydia from their mother during birth. Most prenatal testing includes a chlamydia test, but it doesn’t hurt to double-check with an OB-GYN during the first prenatal checkup.

A chlamydia infection in the eye can occur through oral or genital contact with the eyes, but this isn’t common.

Chlamydia can also be contracted even in someone who’s had the infection once before and successfully treated it.

Chlamydia is often referred to as a “silent infection” because most people with a chlamydia infection don’t experience any symptoms.

However, it can cause several symptoms in others, including:

  • pain
  • a burning sensation while urinating
  • abnormal discharge from the penis or vagina

Some symptoms of chlamydia may also differ slightly for men and women.

Chlamydia symptoms in men

Many men don’t notice the symptoms of chlamydia. Most men have no symptoms at all.

Some of the most common symptoms of chlamydia in men include:

It’s also possible to get a chlamydia infection in the anus. In this case, the main symptoms are often:

  • discharge
  • pain
  • bleeding from this area

Having oral sex with someone who has the infection raises the risk of getting chlamydia in the throat. Symptoms can include a sore throat, cough, or fever. It’s also possible to carry bacteria in the throat and not know it.

Chlamydia symptoms in women

Chlamydia is often known as the “silent infection.” That’s because people with chlamydia may not experience symptoms at all.

If a woman contracts the STI, it may take several weeks before any symptoms appear.

Some of the most common symptoms of chlamydia in women include:

In some women, the infection can spread to the fallopian tubes, which may cause a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is a medical emergency.

The symptoms of PID are:

  • fever
  • severe pelvic pain
  • nausea
  • abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods

Chlamydia can also infect the rectum. Women may not experience symptoms if they have a chlamydia infection in the rectum. If symptoms of a rectal infection do occur, however, they may include rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding.

Additionally, women can develop a throat infection if they have oral sex with someone with the infection. Though it’s possible to contract it without knowing it, symptoms of a chlamydia infection in your throat include cough, fever, and sore throat.

The symptoms of STIs in men and women can be different, so it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Chlamydia is an STI caused by a specific strain of bacteria known as Chlamydia trachomatis.

It is transmitted through vaginal discharge or semen, and can be transmitted through genital contact or oral, vaginal, or anal sex without a barrier method, like a condom.

Chlamydia is more common in women than in men. In fact, it’s estimated that the overall rate of infection is two times higher for women than men in the United States.

Some of the other risk factors for infection include:

  • not using barrier methods like condoms consistently with new sexual partners
  • having a sexual partner who is having sex with other people
  • having a history of chlamydia or other STIs

How common is chlamydia?

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that there were approximately 4 million cases of chlamydia in the United States.

Men and women can both get the infection, but more cases in women are reported.

Infection rates are highest among younger women, with the highest rates of infection occurring in women between ages 15 and 24.

The CDC recommends that all sexually active women ages 25 and younger get screened for chlamydia every year, as well as women ages 25 and older with risk factors for chlamydia.

Statistically, a person is more likely to get an STI if they’ve had sex with more than one person. Other risk factors include having had an STI in the past, or currently have an infection, because this could lower resistance.

An act of sexual assault can raise the risk for contracting chlamydia and other STIs. If you were forced into any sexual activity, including oral sex, aim to get screened as soon as possible.
Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) offer support for survivors of rape or sexual assault. For anonymous, confidential help:

Rates for chlamydia and other STIs have been climbing in recent years.

How can I reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?

Abstaining from sexual activity is the only guaranteed way to prevent chlamydia.

However, if you are sexually active, there are several simple steps you can take to decrease your risk of contracting chlamydia, as well as many other STIs.

Here are a few ways to reduce your risk:

  • Use barrier methods. Using a condom, dental dam, or other barrier method each time you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex can help significantly decrease the risk of infection.
  • Get tested. Getting screened regularly for STIs can help prevent the transmission of chlamydia and ensure that you get treatment if needed. A doctor can help determine how often you should get tested, depending on your risk level.
  • Communicate with your sexual partners. Having multiple sexual partners can increase your risk of chlamydia and other STIs. But you can decrease this risk by openly discussing STI prevention and using barrier methods every time you have sex.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do decide to share any sex toys, wash them thoroughly between each use and cover with a condom.

Chlamydia is easy to treat and can be cured. Since it’s bacterial in nature, antibiotics treat it.

Azithromycin is an antibiotic usually prescribed in a single, large dose. Doxycycline is an antibiotic that must be taken twice per day for about 1 week.

A healthcare professional may also prescribe other antibiotics. No matter which antibiotic is prescribed, dosage instructions should be followed carefully to make sure the infection clears up fully. This can take up to 2 weeks, even with the single-dose medications.

During the treatment time, it’s important not to have sex. It’s still possible to transmit and contract chlamydia if exposed again, even if you’ve treated a previous infection.

STIs can also be transmitted and contracted during oral sex. Contact with the mouth, lips, or tongue may be enough to transmit chlamydia.

If you contract chlamydia from oral sex, you may experience no symptoms. Like vaginal or anal chlamydia infections, symptoms don’t always appear.

If symptoms are present with chlamydia in the throat, they can include:

Other STIs can develop in the throat. Each type of STI in the throat causes unique symptoms and concerns.

Although chlamydia is curable, it’s still important to stay protected and prevent recurrence.

Chlamydia is caused by a bacterial infection. The only true cure for this type of infection is antibiotics.

Some alternative treatments may help ease symptoms. It’s important to remember that untreated chlamydia can lead to long-term complications, including fertility problems and chronic inflammation.

Home remedies for chlamydia that may be effective (for symptoms, not the infection itself) include:

  • Goldenseal. This medicinal plant may limit symptoms during an infection by reducing inflammation.
  • Echinacea. This plant has been widely used to boost the immune system to help people overcome infections of many types, from the common cold to skin wounds. It may help reduce symptoms of chlamydia.

Although compounds in these plants might help ease inflammation and infection in general, there aren’t any quality studies that show they’re effective specifically for chlamydia symptoms.

When seeing a healthcare professional about chlamydia, they’ll likely ask about symptoms. If there are none, they may ask why you have concerns.

If symptoms are present, the healthcare professional may perform a physical exam. This lets them observe any discharge, sores, or unusual spots that may be related to a possible infection.

The most effective diagnostic test for chlamydia is to swab the vagina in women and to test urine in men. If there’s a chance the infection is in the anus or throat, these areas may be swabbed as well.

Results may take several days. The doctor’s office should call to discuss results. If the test returns positive, a follow-up appointment and treatment options will be discussed.

STI testing can be done in several ways.

If you need help finding a primary care doctor, then check out our FindCare tool here.

If a healthcare professional is seen as soon as chlamydia is suspected, the infection will likely clear up with no lasting problems.

However, people may experience serious medical issues if they wait too long to treat it.

Female complications of untreated chlamydia

Some women develop PID, an infection that can damage the uterus, cervix, and ovaries. PID is a painful disease that often requires hospital treatment.

Infertility is also possible if chlamydia is left untreated because the fallopian tubes may become scarred.

During pregnancy, the infection can pass to babies during birth, which can cause eye infections and pneumonia in newborns.

Male complications of untreated chlamydia

Men can also experience complications when chlamydia is left untreated. The epididymis — the tube that holds the testicles in place — may become inflamed, causing pain. This is known as epididymitis.

The infection can also spread to the prostate gland, causing a fever, painful intercourse, and discomfort in the lower back. Another possible complication is male chlamydial urethritis.

These are just some of the most common complications of untreated chlamydia, which is why it’s important to get medical attention right away. Most people who get treatment quickly have no long-term medical problems.

A chlamydia infection is most common in the genital area, but it can occur in less common places like the anus, throat, and the eyes. It can occur in the eyes through direct or indirect contact with the bacteria.

For example, the infection can go from the genitals to the eye if you touch your eye without washing your hands.

If you have a chlamydia eye infection, also known as chlamydial conjunctivitis, the following symptoms may occur:

If left untreated, chlamydia in the eye can lead to blindness. But it’s easily treated, and early treatment will help cure the infection and prevent complications.

Chlamydia in the eye may be confused with more common eye infections.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two common STIs. Both are caused by bacteria that can be transmitted during vaginal, oral, or anal sex without a barrier method.

Both STIs are unlikely to cause symptoms. If symptoms do occur, people with chlamydia experience their first symptoms within a few weeks of contracting the infection. With gonorrhea, it can be much longer before symptoms appear, if at all.

Both infections share some similar symptoms. These include:

The two infections can also lead to PID and reproductive issues if left untreated.

Untreated gonorrhea can lead to itching, soreness, and pain in the rectum, such as during bowel movements. Women with untreated gonorrhea may also experience prolonged, heavy periods and pain during intercourse.

Antibiotics can effectively treat both chlamydia and gonorrhea. They’re both curable and unlikely to cause long-term issues when treated quickly.

Several other key differences help distinguish between the two STIs.

The surest way for a sexually active person to avoid contracting chlamydia is to use a condom or other barrier method during sexual intercourse.

It’s recommended to:

  • Use a barrier method with every new sexual partner.
  • Get tested regularly for STIs with new partners.
  • Avoid having oral sex, or use protection during oral sex, until you and a new partner have been screened for STIs.

Following these steps can help people avoid infections, unintended pregnancy, and other complications. STI prevention is incredibly successful if done correctly.

When can I have sex again?

If you were diagnosed with chlamydia, wait to have sex again until you have finished your treatment.

For some antibiotics, such as doxycycline, this means may need to wait 1 week to have sex, or until you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.

If you were prescribed a single dose of medication, like azithromycin, wait 7 days after taking the medication before having sex.

Can I test myself for chlamydia at home?

Home testing kits for chlamydia are widely available and can be purchased at many pharmacies or online.

These kits typically require a urine sample or tissue swab, which you can collect at home and securely ship back to the lab to receive your results.

Some companies also include a free medical consultation with a doctor if your test results are positive to review your treatment options.

Does chlamydia have a smell?

In some cases, chlamydia can cause unusual vaginal discharge, which could have a strong or pungent smell.

However, this could also be a sign of several other STIs, including bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. It could also be caused by many other factors, including sweat, changes in pH, or shifts in hormone levels.

Consider talking with a healthcare professional to address any concerns regarding abnormal discharge or odor, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like pain, bleeding, itching, or burning.

Can chlamydia turn into something else?

If left untreated for long periods of time, chlamydia can cause several complications.

In women, untreated chlamydia can lead to PID, a condition that could cause permanent damage to the reproductive system as well as infertility.

In men, chlamydia could cause multiple complications if left untreated, including epididymitis, prostatitis, or male chlamydial urethritis.