When someone is diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, they may notice flu-like symptoms and other persistent health concerns due to the virus’ attack on the immune system. This attack can also wreak havoc on one’s hair, skin, and nails. “The body’s immune system is compromised so the hair, skin and nails are more vulnerable to infections,” Rhonda Q. Klein, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut. Even though people typically are able to eliminate these symptoms through treatment, the treatment itself may also cause some hair, skin, and nail concerns.
Thanks to clinical research and medical breakthroughs, HIV has become highly manageable. Even though there is still no cure for the virus, which attacks the body’s immune system, new treatment regimens can allow people living with HIV to live longer, healthier lives while also lowering the risk of passing HIV to someone else. These regimens, which are a combination of different medicines, are more commonly referred to as an antiretroviral treatment, or ART. It’s important to note that the only way to receive these HIV treatments is to get tested to confirm an HIV diagnosis.
Though the appearance of one’s hair, skin, and nails side effects may seem minute in the grand scheme of HIV’s effects, they can have a direct effect on any person’s quality of life. And when you’re fighting to be your healthiest self, these physical side effects can be more than just frustrating — they even can be debilitating. Here, we checked in with experts to get their take on how to handle the symptoms that affect the hair, skin, and nails.
Meet the experts:
- Monica Gandhi MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Associate Division Chief (Clinical Operations/ Education) of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/ San Francisco General Hospital.
- Jason Miller, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Freehold, New Jersey.
- Rhonda Q. Klein, MD, MPH, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut.
- Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut.
How does HIV treatment work?
As of 2022, HIV is treated using a combination of medications, which are mostly administered using pills and often in a combination tablet. Some of the most well-known are dolutegravir, bictegravir, and darunavir, but there are dozens of medications that can be combined to build a person’s treatment plan.
“[This regimen] works to interrupt viral replication by inhibiting steps in the viral life cycle,” says Monica Gandhi MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Associate Division Chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital. “By blocking viral replication, the virus stays at very low levels in the body and does not decrease important immune cells called CD4 cells which fight infection.”