What Do HIV Skin Lesions Look Like?
What Do HIV Skin Lesions Look Like?
Your immune system controls every part of your body, including its largest organ: the skin. Skin lesions from HIV are a response to related immune function deficiencies. There are numerous types of problems, all causing differences in appearance and symptoms. The severity of your condition varies, and it may even coincide with the efficacy of your current HIV treatment. By catching lesions early on, your doctor can help treat the condition, while also making adjustments to your overall HIV treatment plan.
Having HIV can make you more prone to Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of skin cancer. It forms dark skin lesions along blood vessels and lymph nodes, and can be red, brown, or purple in color. This condition can only occur when your T4 cell count is low, indicating an extremely weak immune system. Early detection from a doctor, and even a dermatologist, can help catch this cancer early.
If red blisters have formed on your mouth or genitals, you may have HIV-related herpes. Outbreaks are treated with prescription medications to clear up lesions and prevent their spread. In severe cases, the blisters may even form on the eyes. Herpes lesions are caused by the same virus related to chickenpox, so your risk for developing shingles is increased.
Oral Hairy Leukoplakia
Oral hairy leukoplakia is a mouth infection caused by a mouth virus. It appears as white lesions across the tongue, and many of the spots have a hairy appearance. This virus stems from a weakened immune system, which is why it’s so common in HIV and AIDS. There is no direct treatment for oral hairy leukoplakia lesions. Clearing up the problem instead relies on your overall HIV treatment plan.
Molluscum contagiosum is a skin condition that causes bumps ranging from the color of your flesh to dark pink. People who have HIV or AIDS can experience an outbreak of 100 or more bumps at a time. The bumps are treated with liquid nitrogen, often with repeat treatments; these lesions don’t usually hurt, but they are extremely contagious.
Psoriasis is a skin condition caused by problems in the immune system, where skin cell turnover occurs much faster than it should. The result is a buildup of dead skin cells that often turn silver in color. These scales can occur on any area of the body, and may turn red and inflamed without treatment. Typical treatment measures, such as topical steroid ointments, don’t work well in HIV patients. Retinoid creams and phototherapy may be more effective instead.
Sebborheic dermatitis is often labeled interchangeably with psoriasis, but the two conditions aren’t the same. This skin condition is characterized by yellow, oily, and scaly plaques. When irritated, scratched, and inflamed, the scales can open and bleed. It is more common in HIV patients than psoriasis, but also easier to treat. The condition is treated with either over-the-counter or prescription strength hydrocortisone, but your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic for open wounds to prevent infection.
Scabies are created by mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. The resulting bites are red papules that are extremely itchy. While scabies can affect anyone, they are particularly problematic in HIV cases. This is because the mites and scabies can quickly multiply into several thousand papules. The lesions are extremely contagious because the mites can spread to other people, as well as to other parts of the body.
Thrush is an infection that causes white lesions inside all areas of the mouth, including the tongue. While it occurs in the same spots as oral hairy leukoplakia, it has a thicker layer. It is also caused by a fungus, rather than a virus. Antifungal mouthwash and oral medications can help relieve this condition. Unfortunately, due to the nature of HIV, this type of fungal infection often comes back. HIV medications can help provide relief in conjunction with antifungal measures.
In HIV patients, warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They can be flesh-colored or look like small specks of cauliflower. When irritated, they can bleed, especially if warts are present in the folds of skin or in the mouth. Consequently, they can then transform into open wounds and are susceptible to infection. Warts are removed surgically, but tend to come back in HIV patients.
Immune system deficiencies with HIV makes the development of skin lesions more likely than if you don’t have the disease. Talk to your doctor about all of your treatment options. More effective HIV treatments can also reduce the occurrence of skin lesions so you can lead a better quality of life.
- Common Cutaneous Complications of HIV Disease. (1997, August). Physicians’ Research Network. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.prn.org/index.php/complications/article/common_skin_problems_of_hiv_disease
- Dermatologic Conditions and HIV. (2011, October 28). United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.hiv.va.gov/provider/manual-primary-care/dermatologic.asp
- HIV/AIDS and Skin Conditions. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/infectious_diseases/hivaids_and_skin_conditions_134,100/