What Is a Chlamydia Infection?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the United States has an STI.

Chlamydia spreads through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Most people with chlamydia don't show symptoms, but the infection can cause serious complications if left untreated. Regular screening can help catch asymptomatic cases of chlamydia. Chlamydia can usually be cured with antibiotics.

This article discusses the symptoms, transmission, diagnosis, treatment, complications, and prevention of chlamydia.

healthcare provider speaking with person

Tetra Images / Getty Images

What Are the Symptoms of Chlamydia?

Most people with chlamydia do not have symptoms. If symptoms are present, they vary depending on where the infection is located.

Symptoms of Chlamydia in Men

Symptoms of chlamydia in people who have penises may include:

  • Discharge from the penis that may be watery, milky, or contains pus
  • Pain or a burning sensation when peeing
  • Burning or itching at the opening to the penis
  • Pain/swelling in one or both testicles (less common)

Symptoms in men are more likely to occur in the morning.

Symptoms of Chlamydia in Women

Symptoms of chlamydia in people who have vaginas may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge (may be yellowish and/or strong smelling)
  • A burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • The urge to urinate more than usual
  • Swelling inside the vagina
  • Pain during sex

If untreated, the infection may spread beyond the vagina and cervix. This may cause symptoms such as:

  • Lower back or lower abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after vaginal sex
  • Fever/chills

Symptoms of Chlamydia in All Genders

People of all genders can get chlamydia in the rectum through receptive anal sex or if the infection spreads from another location, such as the vagina.

Symptoms of chlamydia in the rectum may include:

  • Anal discharge
  • Pain or itching in or around the anus
  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Swelling in or around the anus
  • Diarrhea

Chlamydia infections of the eye are also possible and may cause symptoms such as:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Discharge
  • Skin discoloration around the eye

How Long Can You Have Chlamydia Without Knowing?

Chlamydia is referred to as a "silent disease" because people with the infection are often asymptomatic. Approximately 50% of males and 70% of females with chlamydia have no symptoms and/or are unaware they are infected.

If chlamydia does cause symptoms, they typically appear between one and three weeks after exposure to the infection but can take many months to develop.

Symptoms may also appear and then go away after a few days. This does not mean the infection is gone.

Even if you don't have symptoms, chlamydia can be passed to others.

How Is Chlamydia Transmitted?

Chlamydia can be transmitted through:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex
  • Contact between genitals (including vulva to vulva and penis to penis)
  • Shared sex toys without a condom on them or without thoroughly cleaning them between users
  • Seminal or vaginal fluid getting into the eye
  • From pregnant parent to baby during pregnancy or birth

Ejaculation does not have to occur for chlamydia to spread.

Can You Get Chlamydia From Oral Sex?

It is possible to get chlamydia from oral sex. Chlamydia is transmitted through semen, pre-cum fluid, and vaginal fluids and can infect the throat.

What Doesn’t Cause Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is not spread through casual contact such as:

  • Hugging
  • Holding hands
  • Kissing
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Toilets
  • Sharing food or drinks

Can You Get Chlamydia in the Throat?

Oral chlamydia is less common than genital chlamydia and typically doesn't produce symptoms. It is possible to have soreness and redness in the throat or mouth with oral chlamydia. Using condoms and dental dams (a piece of thin, soft plastic or latex used to cover the vulva) during oral sex can help prevent oral chlamydia.

Screening for Chlamydia

If you have symptoms of chlamydia or have been exposed to it, you can be tested for chlamydia and other STIs at:

  • Your primary healthcare provider's office
  • Planned Parenthood health centers
  • Community health clinics
  • The health department

Testing is done using a urine sample and/or a swab of the vagina, urethra, anus, eyes, cervix, and/or throat.

Regular screening for chlamydia is also important because a chlamydia infection can cause serious complications, even if symptoms aren't present. Catching and treating the infection early helps lower this risk.

Screening protocols depend on several criteria, including age, sex, sexual activity, and other risk factors. More research is needed to understand better the screening needs for specific populations, such as members of the LGBTQ+ community and trans and nonbinary individuals.

At-Home Chlamydia Testing

At-home testing kits are available for use if you do not have symptoms of chlamydia and have not knowingly been exposed to it. If you have symptoms or suspect you have been exposed to chlamydia or any STI, it's important to see your healthcare provider immediately instead of doing an at-home test. This prevents a delay in treatment.

Make sure you carefully follow the instructions for the at-home test.

CDC Screening Recommendations

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on screening for chlamydia include:

  • Yearly testing for sexually active women younger than 25 years old
  • Yearly testing for sexually active women age 25 or over who have risk factors (such as new or multiple sex partners)
  • (At least) yearly testing for men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Routine screening considered for sexually active young men in clinical settings where there is a high prevalence of chlamydia (such as correctional facilities, adolescent clinics, and STI clinics)
  • Pregnant people should be screened
  • People whose partner has an STI should be tested
  • Screening for men under age 30 and women age 35 and under at intake in correctional facilities
  • Retesting people who have been treated for chlamydia three months after treatment
  • Screening transgender individuals based on their anatomy and sexual practices

Chlamydia Treatment

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics, most commonly the antibiotic doxycycline. Antibiotics may be prescribed as a one-dose treatment or a seven-day treatment.

Your sexual partner(s) must also be tested and treated (if necessary) to prevent reinfection.

Your healthcare provider may suggest getting retested at a set time after treatment (typically three months) to make sure the infection is completely cleared.

Can Chlamydia Go Away on Its Own?

There isn't much research on whether chlamydia can go away on its own because these studies would require knowingly endangering subjects by withholding treatment, going against ethics board guidelines.

Irreversible damage can occur if you wait to see if your body will fight off the infection. Prompt treatment is the best way to prevent complications that can be serious and permanent.

When Can You Resume Sex After Having Chlamydia?

If you or your partner or partners have chlamydia, you should avoid having sex:

  • For seven days after taking the one-dose medication
  • Until you finish all your doses for the seven-day treatment

How to Notify Your Partner(s) You Have Chlamydia

If you receive a chlamydia diagnosis, it's important to tell recent sex partners (people with whom you had vaginal, anal, or oral sex in the 60 days before symptoms started or were diagnosed) so that they can get tested and start treatment if necessary.

There is no specific right way to tell your partner, but some tips include:

  • Keep calm.
  • Remind yourself that having chlamydia is a health concern, not an indication of your character, and says nothing about you as a person.
  • Familiarize yourself with up-to-date information beforehand.
  • Remember that testing positive for chlamydia does not necessarily mean you or your partner cheated (it's possible to have an STI for an extended period without knowing it).
  • Practice your talk beforehand.
  • Choose a private and relaxed time and place, free from distractions and interruptions.
  • Encourage your partner to get tested and discuss ways to prevent spreading the infection to each other.
  • Let your partner have time and space to process.
  • Ensure your safety (if you think your partner may hurt you, sending an email, texting, or phoning may be safer than telling them face to face; you also can get help by calling 800-799-SAFE, or 800-700-7233, or going to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website).
  • If you would rather stay anonymous, some health departments have programs that can let your sexual partners know they were exposed without giving your name.

Is Chlamydia Curable?

With the right treatment, taken exactly as prescribed, chlamydia is curable, but the damage caused by the infection, such as scarring of reproductive organs, may be irreversible.

You can become reinfected with chlamydia even after successful treatment. Measures such as using condoms and dental dams use must be used to prevent getting chlamydia again.

Complications of Untreated Chlamydia

Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in people with a uterus, which can cause complications such as:

  • Scar tissue that can block the fallopian tubes
  • Fertility problems
  • Ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside of the uterus)
  • Long-term pelvic/abdominal pain

People with penises are less likely to experience health problems from chlamydia, but complications can occur, such as:

  • Infection spreads to the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm from the testicles), which can cause pain in the tube and in rare cases fertility problems
  • Scarring of the urethra, which can cause difficulty urinating

Regardless of gender, chlamydia can lead to complications such as:

  • Increased risk of getting/spreading human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Reiter's syndrome/reactive arthritis (a type of arthritis that causes joint inflammation and swelling)

Pregnancy and Chlamydia

A chlamydia infection can cause health problems during pregnancy and birth. These can include:

  • Premature birth
  • Passing the infection from pregnant parent to baby
  • Eye infection (baby)
  • Pneumonia (baby)

Pregnant people should be screened for chlamydia at the first prenatal visit. Treatments are available that are safe during pregnancy and can lower the risk of complications from the infection.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Chlamydia

Some ways to help lower the risk of contracting or spreading chlamydia include:

  • Use condoms and dental dams (properly and every time) for vaginal, oral, and anal sex (polyurethane condoms can be used if either partner has a latex allergy).
  • Be in a long-term, mutually monogamous (you have sex only with each other) relationship, with both partners have tested negative for chlamydia and other STIs
  • Limit your number of sex partners.
  • Have open, honest, and informed discussions with your partner(s) about STI status and your use of protection before sexual activity occurs.
  • Get tested regularly for chlamydia and other STIs.
  • Don't share sex toys (or thoroughly wash them and/or cover them with a new condom between users).
  • Don't douche (can affect bacteria balance in the vagina and increase the risk of STIs).
  • Be mindful that drug or alcohol intoxication can lead to impaired decision-making and risky sexual behaviors that can increase your chances of an STI.

Outlook for Chlamydia

With proper antibiotic treatment, more than 95% of people with chlamydia will be cured.

Untreated chlamydia, and repeated chlamydia infections, can lead to lasting complications such as PID, so early and thorough treatment is important for a good long-term outlook.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC estimates 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted infection.

  2. Planned Parenthood. Chlamydia.

  3. Government of Canada. Chlamydia.

  4. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia – CDC basic fact sheet.

  5. MedlinePlus. Chlamydia infections.

  6. National Health Service. Chlamydia.

  7. US Preventive Services Task Force, Davidson KW, Barry MJ, et al. Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea: us preventive services task force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2021;326(10):949. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.14081

  8. MedlinePlus. Chlamydia test.

  9. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Chlamydia – CDC detailed fact sheet.

  10. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. STD awareness: will STDs go away on their own?

  11. Planned Parenthood. Get tested.

  12. Office on Women's Health. Chlamydia.

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.