HIV/AIDS and the Eyes

What is HIV/AIDS?

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which is a life-threatening but preventable disease. Over time, HIV weakens your ability to fight off serious infections and some cancers. When this happens, HIV infection becomes AIDS.

How does AIDS affect the eyes?

People with AIDS can get serious infections that healthy people do not get, and some of those infections can affect the eye. Many people with AIDS develop eye problems. Almost any part of the eye can be affected. The problems can be mild to severe. Over time, infections may involve the brain and cause vision changes. Other kinds of eye problems related to HIV or AIDS include:

  • HIV retinopathy. This is a problem with the blood vessels in your retina. It is the most common eye problem in people with HIV. The retina is the lining at the back of your eye that senses light coming into your eye. The retina has tiny blood vessels that can get blocked or bleed and cause damage.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis. This is a virus that infects your retina. If not treated, CMV retinitis can cause your retina to pull away from the back of your eye. This is called a retinal detachment and can cause blindness.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma. This is a tumor that may appear as a red or purple mass on the white of your eye or a purple bump on your eyelid. It can also appear on other places of the body, most commonly the skin or mouth.
  • Herpes zoster ophthalmicus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. It can damage your eye, causing pain and loss of vision.

How is it diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and do exams and tests such as:

  • An exam using a microscope with a light attached, called a slit lamp, to look closely at the front and back of your eye
  • An exam using drops to enlarge, or dilate, your pupils and a light to look into the back of your eyes
  • An eye test in which a camera takes pictures of the blood vessels inside your eye after dye is injected into a vein in your arm.
  • A visual field test, which uses spots of light to measure your central vision and how well you see things on all sides

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Floating spots in your vision or loss of vision
  • Problems with eye movement
  • A bright red or purple growth near the corner of the eye
  • Blurry vision, double vision, or changes in color vision
  • Painful, red, or watery eyes
  • Painful sensitivity to light
  • Swollen eyelids or fluid-filled blisters on or inside your eyelids

How is it treated?

Treatment for AIDS-related eye problems depends on the problem. Medicines can help treat infections. Tumors may be treated with radiation or surgery. If your retina has been damaged from an infection in the eye, you may need surgery or laser treatment to save your vision.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Have regular eye exams. Ask your provider how often you should have your eyes checked.
  • If you have HIV or AIDS, talk to your healthcare provider about what eye and vision symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.

For more information on AIDS, call the 24-hour CDC Hotline: 1-800-232-4636.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-28
Last reviewed: 2014-10-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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