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Gonorrhea in Throat, Mouth, or Eyes: When to Contact a Doctor
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has gonorrhea.
The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, and it infects the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and anus. In addition, it can infect the eyes, mouth, and throat, sometimes called oral gonorrhea.
Read more below to learn about symptoms of gonorrhea in throat, mouth, or eyes.
What is Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects both women and men. It is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
The bacteria target the mucous membranes, which are moist, soft tissues not covered by our outer layer of skin. As as consequence, when someone has the infection, the bacteria can be found in areas of the body covered by mucous membranes: the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, and rectum as well as the eyes (the lining of the eyelid), mouth and throat.
How do you catch gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is an STD, meaning it is transmitted by having oral, anal, or vaginal sex with a person who already has gonorrhea. The infection is spread through semen and vaginal fluids, but the transmission of the disease is not dependent on ejaculation. Anyone can get gonorrhea, even if they have been diagnosed and treated for gonorrhea before.
Can you get gonorrhea from kissing or from someone’s saliva?
It is highly unlikely that you could contract gonorrhea from kissing someone with a gonorrhea throat infection, with no documented cases reported. It is also extremely unlikely, but possible, to have a gonorrhea eye infection as an adult. The infection could result from touching the eyes and having infected semen or vaginal fluids on the hands.
Can you get gonorrhea from oral?
Yes, engaging in oral sex by either giving oral sex to someone with infected genitals or receiving oral sex by someone with an infected throat or mouth can result in a gonorrhea infection. While the infection comes from semen and vaginal fluids, it can infect the eyes, mouth, and throat in addition to the genitals, urethra, and anus.
Will I pass on gonorrhea to my baby if I am pregnant?
Women who are pregnant can pass gonorrhea onto their baby during birth. This can result in the baby having joint, eye, or blood infections. For gonorrhea transmitted during childbirth, it is most common for the baby to have an eye infection also called [gonococcal conjunctivitis](https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1192190-overview0. It typically begins two to four days after birth and can cause pus, swelling, and redness in the infant’s eyes.
Will I catch gonorrhea just from touching someone?
Since bodily fluids such as semen or vaginal secretions are required to transmit the bacteria that cause gonorrhea, you cannot get gonorrhea through casual contact. For example, it is not possible to get gonorrhea from holding hands, hugging, sneezing, sitting on a toilet, or sharing food.
Certain traits do increase your likelihood of contracting gonorrhea:
- Engaging with multiple sexual partners in one year - The more partners you engage with, the more likely you will be exposed to an infected person and contract a STD.
- Having unprotected sex – Condoms can reduce the likelihood of you contracting a STD; however, condoms are never 100% effective. If you are concerned you may have a STD, you should get tested regardless of whether you used a condom in your last sexual encounter.
- Younger than 24 – Individuals younger than 24 tend to practice unprotected sex more often than other age groups and are less likely to be tested.
- Previous diagnosis of a STD – Having already contracted a STD increases your body’s susceptibility to contracting another STD. Contracting gonorrhea can increase your body’s susceptibility to contracting HIV/AIDS.
Symptoms of Gonorrhea in Throat, Mouth, or Eyes
It is difficult to know how common gonorrhea is because it often doesn’t cause any symptoms. Gonorrhea can appear within one or two weeks after having sex with a partner with gonorrhea. Even with no symptoms, it is still possible to transmit the disease and damage the reproductive system.
There are some differences in how gonorrhea presents in men versus women. In general common reported signs of gonorrhea in both men and women are abnormal discharge from the vagina or penis, that may be green, yellow, or white and a burning sensation while urinating. . Also called dysuria, this symptom is common with other STDs and is an important sign to get tested.
Women can also have painful periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex, abdominal pain, or a fever.
Men can also have a less common symptom of swelling or pain in either or both testicles. Gonorrhea can also spread or infect the anus causing discharge, bleeding, and rectal pain.
Symptoms of gonorrhea in the throat, mouth, or eyes are different, but it is common for there to be no symptoms. Oral gonorrhea symptoms include:
- Painful, burning or swollen glands in throat – This is a very common sign of a gonorrhea infection from oral sex.
- Conjunctivitis – This is a term for itchy, red eyes due to an infection, which can also be accompanied by pus or sensitivity to light.
- Sore throat or difficulty swallowing – Sometimes oral gonorrhea is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as a sore throat.
How to Treat Gonorrhea
Since gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, gonorrhea treatment is a regimen of oral antibiotics regardless of which area in the body is infected. Gonorrhea in the mouth, throat, or eyes are treated the same as gonorrhea infections in the reproductive organs. Some strains of gonorrhea in the US have become antibiotic resistant, sometimes called “Super Gonorrhea”. Therefore, a medical physician will decide on the best course of antibiotics with some of the commonly recommended ones being: ceftriaxone, cefixime, doxycycline, or azithromycin(the brand name is Zithromax). The infection should clear after one to two weeks, if you take the treatment properly.
You should never stop taking antibiotics until the recommended course is finished, even if you think the infection cleared or you are feeling better. If you do not finish the antibiotics, the infection can come back and be resistant to the antibiotics you were taking. Additionally, since antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are already more common, if your symptoms continue after a few days of taking antibiotics, consult your doctor. They may switch you to a different type of antibiotics.
It is important to make sure the prescription you get for antibiotics is based on your personal information - you must never take antibiotics meant for someone else. Medical professionals choose specific antibiotics based on numerous factors including age, medical history, current health, as well as many other important person-specific features. Taking antibiotics prescribed to someone else can have serious health consequences.
Is Gonorrhea curable?
Yes gonorrhea is curable by taking the appropriate medication as directed; however, repeat infections are common. You and your sexual partner(s) should always be tested after three months of completing treatment, especially if you are unsure whether your partner(s) received treatment.
Your and your sexual partner(s) should not have unprotected sex again until treatment is complete. You should wait at least one week after completing a prescribed single dose medication. You should finish all doses if you are prescribed a seven-day treatment. In some cases, the infection may still be present, so you should wait until you and your partner(s) are sure the disease is no longer present.
Complications from Gonorrhea
Because gonorrhea can have no symptoms, some people go untreated. Even with those who have symptoms, stigma, access, or other reasons can get in the way of getting medical attention. Not receiving prompt and proper treatment can create serious health problems.
For women, gonorrhea that goes untreated can spread through your uterus to your fallopian tubes. The fallopian tubes connect the ovaries to the uterus and transport fertilized eggs during pregnancy.
If untreated gonorrhea spreads to this area, it can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Unfortunately, PID can do permanent damage to a women’s reproductive system, including long-term pelvic pain, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, or premature birth.
For men, gonorrhea can also lead to serious health problems. Gonorrhea can cause infertility in men and sometimes the infection can spread past the penis causing fever or pain.
Oral gonorrhea or gonorrhea in the eyes is unlikely to spread to the reproductive organs causing the damage that gonorrhea in the genitalia can cause. It can, however, lead to a life-threatening blood or joint infection (as can a gonorrhea infection anywhere in the body), called disseminated gonococcal infection (DGI). Symptoms of DGI include:
- joint pain
- skin rashes or sores on the skin
Women are four times more likely to develop DGI than men. If you suspect you may have DGI, you should contact a doctor immediately as untreated DGI can permanently damage your joints.
When to Contact a Doctor
If you have any of the symptoms described you should go see a doctor. In general, if you are sexually active and have any usual discharge, burning sensations, or pain while having sex, you may have a STD and should get tested.
If you are a woman, you should contact a doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms as they can be a sign of a serious complication from Gonorrhea called pelvic inflammatory disease:
- Fainting or signs of shock
- Serious lower abdominal pain
- Temperature that is higher than 101°F
Should any of these symptoms arise or if you suspect you may have a STD, it is very important to get tested. Even if you have no symptoms, you should be getting tested regularly so you do not unknowingly spread the disease. You can make an appointment with your primary care physician or see an urgent care in order to be tested and receive treatment.
Read more of our Gonorrhea Series:
- Why is Gonorrhea Called the Clap?
- Is Gonorrhea Cureable?
- Gonorrhea vs. Chlamydia: What's the Difference?