How to treat chlamydia, and why it’s important to do so.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). People often don’t have symptoms, so it is important to take a test if you think you have been exposed and then treat the infection as soon as possible.
Antibiotics such as doxycycline are a safe and effective treatment for chlamydia. If you have chlamydia and it is not treated, it can lead to serious health complications. Always take the antibiotics as directed and finish the course to ensure the infection has gone.
It is common to have no symptoms when you have chlamydia.
If you think you may have been infected with chlamydia, get tested immediately.
Antibiotics are safe and effective at treating chlamydia.
If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to serious health complications, including infertility.
Help prevent the spread of chlamydia with regular testing and using condoms.
What is chlamydia?
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is a bacterial infection which is usually passed on through:
- having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral)
- sharing unwashed sex toys or not using a condom with sex toys
- skin to skin contact of the genitals
- infected vaginal fluid or semen getting into the eye
Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, but it can lead to more severe complications if untreated. It is essential to get tested and start treatment as soon as possible if you think you may have chlamydia.
How common is chlamydia?
It is very common to get chlamydia. For example, according to the Nuffield Trust, in England in 2020, chlamydia accounted for 51% of all new STI diagnoses.
A 2002 review of medical studies found that you are more likely to get chlamydia if you are a young adult, and particularly a young woman, under 25. This is partly due to biological factors in a young woman’s body. In both sexes, it’s partly due to behavourial factors such as an increased likelihood of casual sexual partners.
How is chlamydia transmitted?
Chlamydia is an STI which means the infection is transmitted through sexual activity, including:
- having unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
- not using a condom when sharing sex toys
- not washing sex toys when sharing them
- your genitals coming into direct contact with your partner's genitals
- getting infected semen or vaginal fluid into your eye
You cannot get chlamydia from hugging or kissing; toilet seats, baths and swimming pools; or sharing cutlery or towels.
If you are pregnant and have chlamydia, it is possible to pass it on to your baby.
How do I know if I have chlamydia?
The only way to know if you have chlamydia is to get tested. Use a home test kit available from ZAVA or visit your doctor or a sexual health clinic to take a test.
It is a painless and reliable test that involves taking a swab from the vagina, or a urine sample if you’re male, which is then sent away to a laboratory for testing.
You need to wait two weeks after you think you may have been infected before you test for chlamydia (though if you have symptoms you should test sooner), as the infection may not show up in your system before then.
How can I reduce my risk of getting chlamydia?
Adults of all ages are most at risk of getting chlamydia when they have unprotected sex and have multiple sexual partners.
You can reduce your risk of getting chlamydia by:
- using a condom when you have vaginal, anal and oral sex
- covering the female genitals with a dental dam (a thin, soft piece of plastic) during oral sex
- not sharing sex toys or washing them carefully if you do
What are the symptoms of chlamydia?
It is very common to have chlamydia and not have any symptoms.
Symptoms in men include:
- discharge from the tip of the penis, which is white, watery or cloudy
- a burning sensation when peeing
- tenderness and inflammation in and around the testicles
Symptoms in women include:
- changes in vaginal discharge
- discharge from the anus
- a burning sensation when urinating
- bleeding after sex or between periods
- tummy pain
How is chlamydia treated?
Chlamydia is treated using antibiotics available from our doctors here at ZAVA.
Antibiotics are highly effective at stopping infection. They are usually prescribed once you have your test results back, but if it is very likely that you have been infected, a doctor may start your treatment right away.
What is the best antibiotic for treatment?
Doctors usually prescribe doxycycline to treat chlamydia. You may need another antibiotic called azithromycin if you’re allergic to doxycycline or can’t take it for some other medical reason.
How effective is chlamydia treatment?
Antibiotics are 95% effective at treating chlamydia. It is important to start the antibiotics as soon as possible after infection and to finish taking the whole course.
Although antibiotics effectively treat chlamydia, reinfection is common so doctors recommend taking preventative measures such as using condoms and carefully washing shared sex toys.
How long does it take for chlamydia to go away after treatment?
Chlamydia normally goes away by the end of the course of antibiotics.
If you are experiencing symptoms, these can start to clear up very soon after starting your treatment. However, you need to finish the whole course to ensure that the infection has been completely treated.
If you are still experiencing symptoms at the end of your course of antibiotics, get medical advice as soon as possible. You may need to try a different type of antibiotic.
When can I have sex again after treatment?
The exact length of time you have to wait until you have sex (including oral sex) after treatment depends on which antibiotics you take. It is essential to follow your doctor’s instructions to avoid passing the infection on to others.
If you are taking doxycycline, you must wait until you (and your partner, if your partner is also having treatment for chlamydia) have finished the entire course before having sex.
If you are taking azithromycin, you must wait seven days after finishing the treatment before having sex.
How do you know if chlamydia has gone after treatment?
The only way to know for sure if chlamydia has gone after the treatment is to test again no sooner than 6 weeks after finishing your treatment. However, if you complete the antibiotic treatment as instructed and have no symptoms, you can be confident that it has gone.
How long will I test positive after treatment?
If you test positive after treatment (provided you waited 6 weeks before testing again), either the treatment has failed or there is a new infection in your body. A 2017 review of medical studies suggests that getting a new infection is much more common than treatment failing.
Can chlamydia come back after treatment?
If you have taken the antibiotics as instructed, it is unlikely that the initial infection of chlamydia will come back. However, you can get a new infection of chlamydia very quickly after getting rid of another one. Testing and treating both yourself and your current and recent sexual partners is essential to avoid reinfection.
Can chlamydia go away on its own?
It is very rare for chlamydia to go away on its own with treatment.
What happens if chlamydia is left untreated?
If chlamydia is left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of your body, such as your urinary tract, pelvic tissue and reproductive system. This can lead to more severe health complications.
In women, untreated chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. If you are pregnant and have chlamydia that is not treated, there is a chance you could pass the infection onto your baby. The infection can affect their lungs and their eyes. Untreated chlamydia can also increase the risk of premature labour and low birth weight.
In men, in rare cases, untreated chlamydia can cause inflammation of the testicles and reactive arthritis.
If you are sexually active, you can catch chlamydia. You can help prevent the spread of the infection by:
- using a condom, including when you have anal sex and to cover the penis during oral sex
- using a dental dam (a piece of soft, thin plastic) to protect the female genitals from infection
- not sharing sex toys or washing them very carefully and covering them in a condom if you do
You can also help prevent chlamydia by testing yourself regularly.
If you are under 25 years old and sexually active, it is recommended that you test for chlamydia once a year and when you have sex with new or casual partners. You should also test if you are not using condoms.
Women under 25 years old may be offered tests as part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP).
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion
Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.Meet our doctors