HIV treatment

can strengthen your immune system and help stop lung infections


What do I need to know?


The relationship between HIV and lung problems

Age, lifestyle and other conditions can all affect the health of the lungs, whether you are living with HIV or not. But there are some additional factors which people living with HIV need to be aware of.

  • Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, are more common among people living with HIV compared to those without HIV. If you do smoke, try to cut down or stop, as smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and COPD. COPD is also more common in people living with HIV
    • Speak to your healthcare team about the support available to help you cut down or stop smoking
  • People living with HIV can have a weakened immune system due to the HIV virus  
    • This means their risk of lung infection is greater, for example, the risk of developing TB is greater in people living with HIV
    • It’s important to look after yourself by eating well and being physically active to reduce your risk of lung infections
  • Some studies suggest that the HIV virus might increase the risk of developing pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a medical term for high blood pressure in veins that supply blood to the lungs, than those who don’t live with HIV

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More about lungs


About lung infections and lung disease

  • Possible lung infections can include:
    • Pneumonia – this is having swelling and fluid in your lungs. It can usually be treated with lots of rest, antibiotics and drinking lots of fluids
    • Bronchitis – this is an infection of the main airways of the lungs, which can make them inflamed. Rest and drinking lots of fluids usually helps and some medicines are available to help with symptoms   
    • Tuberculosis (TB) – this is a serious lung infection but it can usually be treated with the right antibiotics
  • Possible lung diseases include:
    • Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) – this is a slow developing and rare lung disease where high blood pressure in the lungs put strain on the heart. It is a serious condition and can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms are often associated with other illnesses such as heart disease and other lung problems. Talk to your healthcare team if you are concerned
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – this is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It is caused by damage to the lungs over many years, usually from smoking
    • Lung cancer – there are two types; small-cell lung cancer (less common) and non-small-cell lung cancer, which accounts for more than 80% of cases
    • Asthma – a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties due to inflammation of the breathing tubes. Asthma can affect people of all ages and triggers include allergens (such as house dust mites), irritants (such as cigarette smoke) and chest infections
  • Symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing up blood, phlegm or mucus, and pain in the lungs may all be signs of a problem in the lungs
  • Smoking is the most common cause of lung-related problems and is the main cause of lung cancer and COPD
  • The likelihood of getting of lung disease and lung infection increases as you get older
Can HIV cause lung disease?


HIV does not cause lung disease but it is important to understand how HIV can affect your lungs. For example:  

  • You may be more likely to get a throat or lung infection if your immune system has been affected by the HIV virus
  • If you smoke you are significantly more likely to develop lung problems such as cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), compared to a non-smoker
  • Some studies suggest that the HIV virus might increase the risk of developing pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a medical term for high blood pressure in arteries that supply blood to the lungs, than those who don’t live with HIV

Am I at risk?

Your healthcare team can carry out a number of tests to check how healthy your lungs are. These may include:  

  • Reviewing your lifestyle choices
  • Listening to your chest
  • X-rays
  • Peak flow test – to measure the volume of air in your lungs
  • Screening tests for tuberculosis (TB)
  • Reviewing your HIV medication

What if I am already living with lung disease or a lung infection?

Talk to your healthcare team about your lifestyle choices as they can help identify any changes you might need to make 

  • If you smoke, you should stop, or at least cut down, as smoking is the main cause of lung cancer and COPD, which can cause other lung-related problems and impact recovery from an infection
  • A higher CD4 cell count, a low HIV viral load and taking HIV treatment can reduce how severe an infection could become and the likelihood of getting it again
  • Your healthcare team will let you know what treatments you need for the infections and what lifestyle changes you should make to help keep your immune system as strong as possible
  • Lung disease can be managed and some lung infections, including TB, pneumonia and bronchitis are curable with the right treatment 
What should I ask?


Ask your healthcare team...

  • What lifestyle changes should I make to help me manage my risk of contracting lung disease?
  • How can my diet and/or exercise regime help?
  • How can I cut down or stop smoking?
  • What are the symptoms of lung disease?
  • How often should I receive screening for TB or other lung infections?
  • What should I do if I feel breathless?
  • Will my HIV medication interact with my lung medication?


  1. Stop smoking or take steps to cut down
  2. Regular exercise
    Can improve the efficiency of your lungs
  3. Regular check-ups
    Can screen for TB and other lung diseases
  4. Have regular immunisations
    Particularly pneumococcal and flu vaccines
  5. Continue taking your HIV treatment
    To keep your immune system strong