Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on June 06, 2024
7 min read

Chlamydia is an infection that is caused by bacteria. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. This infection is easily spread because it often causes no symptoms. That means you can pass chlamydia to sexual partners without knowing it. Among people with chlamydia, about 75% of people with vaginas and 50% of people with penises have no symptoms. However, if left untreated, chlamydia can cause serious complications.

You may not have any symptoms. If you do get chlamydia symptoms, they may not usually show up until several weeks after contact with an infected person.

Vaginal chlamydia symptoms

  • White, yellow, or gray vaginal discharge that may have an odor
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Painful periods
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain when you have sex
  • Itching or burning in or around your vagina
  • Pain when you pee
  • Pus in your urine
  • Fever

Penile chlamydia symptoms

  • Small amounts of clear or cloudy discharge from the tip of your penis
  • Painful urination
  • Burning and itching in your urethra (the tube that urine comes out of) around the opening of your penis
  • Pain and swelling in and around your testicles

Unprotected sex can also lead to chlamydia in other body parts such as your anus, throat, and eyes. Symptoms include:

  • Anus: Pain, discomfort, bleeding, and discharge
  • Throat: Pain or redness in your throat or mouth, white spots toward the back of your mouth, and sores in your mouth
  • Eyes: Redness, pain, and discharge

Understanding chlamydia discharge

The type of discharge you might get from chlamydia can vary. If it is vaginal discharge, it may be white, yellow, or gray, and it may smell bad. If it is penile discharge, it may look clear or cloudy, or like pus. If the discharge is coming from your anus, it may be like mucus.

Chlamydia trachomatis, the bacteria that causes chlamydia, most often spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral, or anal sex. You get it from the semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person. It can also pass from an infected person to another through genital contact, even if there’s no sex, and by sharing sex toys with someone who’s infected.

If you are pregnant, you can pass chlamydia to your child during delivery.

What doesn’t cause chlamydia?

Chlamydia spreads through semen or vaginal fluid, but not through mouth-to-mouth contact. So, activities such as kissing, sharing drinks with someone, holding hands, or hugging don't spread chlamydia. You also can’t get chlamydia from someone sneezing or coughing on you.

If you have symptoms of chlamydia or have a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you should get tested for chlamydia. 

If you’re sexually active, talk to your doctor about whether and how often you should be tested for chlamydia and other STIs. The CDC recommends regular testing if you:

  • Have a vagina, are sexually active, and are younger than 25
  • Have a vagina, are sexually active, are 25 or older, and have increased risk, such as a sex partner who has an STI
  • Have a penis, are sexually active, and are gay or bisexual
  • Are pregnant and younger than 25, or you’re 25 or older and have increased risk

You might want to consider getting tested if you’ve had unprotected sex. And it might be a good idea to get tested for STIs regularly if you’re sexually active, even if the descriptions above don’t apply to you.

There are a few different tests your doctor can use to diagnose chlamydia. They may take a urine sample, or they may use a swab to take a sample from the urethra, vagina, cervix, or anus.Then, the sample gets sent to a lab to check for the bacteria that causes chlamydia. Your doctor also may ask you to take a home test kit.

Are chlamydia home-test kits accurate?

At-home test kits are a way to test yourself for chlamydia without going to a provider’s office. Since 2023, these tests have been available to purchase at a pharmacy or to order online. With these kits, you take a sample yourself and then send it to a lab.

Although the tests themselves should be accurate, if you don’t collect a good enough sample, your results may not be accurate. The U.S. FDA authorized the tests but has pointed out the possibility of false positives or false negatives (incorrect results) with these tests.

Can you have chlamydia and other STIs at the same time?

You can have chlamydia and other STIs at the same time. For example, it’s common to have chlamydia and gonorrhea at the same time. Gonorrhea is another STI that often doesn’t cause any symptoms.

Chlamydia is curable. Because it’s a bacterial infection, doctors can treat it with antibiotics. If you have chlamydia, your doctor will prescribe oral antibiotics, such as azithromycin (Zithromax) or doxycycline.

With treatment, your infection should clear up in about a week or two. It’s important to finish all of your antibiotics, even if you feel better.

If you have a vagina and your chlamydia infection is severe, you may need treatment in a hospital, IV antibiotics (medicine given through a vein), and pain medicine.

It’s important for your partner(s) to get treated as well, so you can avoid getting infected again and prevent spreading the infection to others.

After you finish the antibiotics, you should get retested after 3 months to be sure the infection is cured. This is particularly important if you aren’t sure your partner(s) were treated. But do get tested even if your partner(s) were treated. Don’t have sex until you’re sure both you and your partner(s) are no longer infected.

How long will I test positive for chlamydia after treatment?

You may test positive for 4 weeks after treatment for chlamydia, even though your infection will probably clear up sooner than that.

Can you get chlamydia again after treatment?

After your chlamydia is treated and cured, it’s possible to get reinfected. This is why your partner(s) should also get treatment if you get diagnosed with chlamydia.

If you don’t get treated for chlamydia, you run the risk of several health problems.

  • If you have a vagina and your chlamydia goes untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can damage your fallopian tubes (the tubes that connect your ovaries to your uterus). It can even cause infertility (the inability to have children). An untreated chlamydia infection could also increase your risk of ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilized egg implants and develops outside your uterus). Chlamydia may also cause premature births (giving birth too early). If mothers pass the infection to their children during childbirth, the newborn could have eye infections, blindness, or pneumonia.
  • If you have a penis, chlamydia can cause an infection of the epididymis (the tube that carries sperm away from the testes) or proctitis -- inflammation of the rectum.
  • If your chlamydia goes untreated, whether you have a vagina or a penis, you can get a condition called nongonococcal urethritis (NGU) -- an infection of the urethra.

To reduce your risk of a chlamydia infection:

  • If you have a penis or have sex with someone who has a penis, use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
  • If you have a vagina, use dental dams during oral sex or vagina-to-vagina contact.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys. If you do share them, wash them in between uses, and put a condom on toys used for penetration.
  • Having multiple sex partners increases your risk of chlamydia and other STIs, so limiting your number of sex partners can help prevent infection.
  • Get tested for STIs regularly, and encourage partners to get tested as well.
  • If you think you’re infected, avoid sexual contact and see a doctor.

Any genital symptoms, such as discharge, burning when you pee, or an unusual sore or rash, should be a signal to stop having sex and to see a doctor right away. If you’re diagnosed with and treated for chlamydia or any other sexually transmitted disease, tell all your recent sex partners so they can see a doctor and be treated.

Because chlamydia often has no symptoms, infected people may unknowingly spread it to their sex partners.

Chlamydia is a common STI and often causes no symptoms, so you might not know you have it. Treatment with antibiotics can clear up the infection, but if you don’t get treated, it could lead to more serious problems. If you have any symptoms, you should get tested, and it may be a good idea to get tested regularly even if you don’t have symptoms.

Can chlamydia be cured?

Yes, chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics. But after treatment, you can get reinfected. 

How do you get chlamydia without being sexually active?

You can get chlamydia from sharing sex toys with someone who’s infected, or through contact with their vaginal fluid or semen. It’s rare, but you can get chlamydia in your eyes if you touch the genitals of someone who’s infected and then rub your eyes.

How can chlamydia affect your life?

Chlamydia can cause pain and discomfort, but treatment with antibiotics can usually clear it up in a week or two. If it goes untreated, chlamydia can lead to more serious problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease.

Can you get chlamydia from sharing drinks?

No, you can’t get chlamydia from sharing drinks or kissing.