HIV and your skin
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. Skin lesions can differ in appearance and symptoms.
The severity of your condition can also vary, and it may even coincide with the effectiveness of your current HIV treatment.
It’s important to tell your doctor about any skin lesions you notice. Your doctor can help you treat them and make adjustments to your overall HIV treatment plan if needed. Learn more about HIV-associated rash.
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 it can be red, brown, or purple in color.
This condition often occurs in the later stages of HIV when the T4 cell count is low, and the immune system is weak.
Early detection from a primary care doctor or 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. Having herpes increases your risk for developing shingles.
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.
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 cells develop faster than they 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 people with HIV. Retinoid creams and phototherapy may be more effective alternatives.
Seborrheic dermatitis is often labeled interchangeably with psoriasis, but the two conditions aren’t the same.
This condition is more common in people with HIV, than in people with psoriasis.
This skin condition is characterized by yellow, oily, and scaly plaques. When irritated, scratched, and inflamed, the scales can open and bleed.
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 people with HIV.
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. This condition often reoccurs in people with HIV. Antifungal and HIV medications can help provide relief.
In HIV patients, warts are caused by the human papillomavirus. 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.
Warts that are scratched or get caught can become open wounds and are susceptible to infection. Warts are removed surgically, but tend to come back in people with HIV.
The immune system deficiencies caused by HIV make it more likely that you’ll develop skin lesions.
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 have a better quality of life.