Rashes and Skin Conditions Associated with HIV/AIDS

Written by Julie Verville and Tricia Kinman | Published on May 13, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 13, 2015

The HIV virus puts patients at risk for a wide range of infections, including a number of conditions that can lead to rashes, sores, and lesions. Find out what to look for, and get information on treatment options.

Overview

The HIV virus puts people at risk for a wide range of infections. This can include a number of conditions that can lead to rashes, sores, and lesions. Skin conditions are among the earliest signs of the presence of HIV in the body. They’re often viewed as markers for the disease’s progression. According to Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, approximately 90 percent of all people with HIV will have rash-like symptoms during the course of their disease. HIV-related rashes generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. generalized dermatitis
  2. bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic infections
  3. skin tumors

Generalized Dermatitis

Dermatitis, or generalized skin rashes, is the most commonly experienced symptom of HIV. Some typical types of dermatitis are:

Xerosis

Xerosis is dryness of the skin, which often appears as dry, itchy, and scaly skin patches on the arms and legs.

Atopic Dermatitis

This is a chronic inflammatory condition. It often causes red, scaly, and itchy rashes.

Prurigo Nodularis

Prurigo nodularis is a condition in which lumps on the skin cause scab-like appearances and itchiness. This type of dermatitis is typically seen among people with extremely compromised immune systems.

Eosinophillic Folliculitis

This skin disease is characterized by itchy, red bumps centered on hair follicles in the upper body. This form of dermatitis is found most frequently in people in later stages of the disease’s progression.

Treatments for dermatitis normally include one or more of the following:

  • topical moisturizers
  • steroids
  • antiretroviral drugs
  • antihistamines

Infections

A number of bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections impact people infected with HIV during the course of their disease. The most commonly reported infections include:

Herpes Zoster

Herpes zoster is caused by the same underlying virus as household chickenpox. It can cause shingles, a condition in which painful skin rashes and bumps appear in people with HIV. Treatment often involves antiviral drug regimens.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is characterized by pink or flesh-colored bumps on the skin. This highly contagious skin virus often impacts people with HIV. Repetitive treatments may be needed to completely rid the body of these unwanted bumps. Current treatment options, according to Johns Hopkins, include freezing the bumps with liquid nitrogen, topical ointments, and laser removal.

Oral Hairy Leukoplakia

This oral viral infection can be characterized as thick, white lesions on the tongue. Ongoing antiretroviral treatments will improve the body’s immune system and ability to rid itself of this virus.

Thrush

This fungal infection causes a thick white layer on the tongue. This recurrent infection can be challenging to treat. Current options include antifungal medications, oral rinses, and oral lozenges.

Skin Lesions

Kaposi sarcoma, a form of cancer that impacts the lining of lymph nodes or blood vessels, appears as dark lesions on the skin that are brown, purple, or reddish in color. This form of cancer can impact the lungs, digestive tract, and liver. It can cause shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the skin.

Lesions often appear when the white blood cell count of the patient drops dramatically. The appearance of these lesions is often a sign that HIV has turned into AIDS and that the person’s immune system is severely compromised. Kaposi sarcoma responds to chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Ongoing antiretroviral drug therapy has shown promise in reducing the incidence of this cancer in people with HIV.

Talk to Your Doctor

People with HIV will most likely experience one or more of these types of skin conditions and rashes. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor if you have a rash. They’ll assess the type of rash you have, consider your current medications, and prescribe a treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms.

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