The days of HIV being a guaranteed death sentence are behind us. With the proper treatment and medications, HIV can be like any other chronic health condition. However, that does not mean that the virus disappears or that you are free from its effects – and in some cases, being HIV+ can make already-risky habits even more damaging.
That is certainly the case with tobacco use. Smokers can already expect a risk of premature death thanks to heart disease and respiratory issues, and HIV infection worsens these dangers. If you are a smoker and have been diagnosed with HIV, quitting the habit is the most valuable thing you can do for your health.
The Link Between HIV and Smoking
Smoking is approximately twice as common within the gay community as without – and many of the lifestyle-related risk factors for HIV infection are also true of smoking. Poverty, recreational drug use, heavy drinking and depression can all increase a person’s likelihood to become nicotine-dependent.
Risks of HIV+ Smokers
Smoking can affect your immune system and put you at risk of infections, particularly in the mouth/throat and lungs. These risks are greatly amplified by the immune-suppression effects of HIV. Smokers with HIV are more likely to develop:
- Hairy leukoplakia
- Oral thrush/candidiasis
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Other lung infections
Additionally, issues like COPD and lung cancer can be exacerbated by HIV infection. Research has shown that smoking while HIV+ can take over a decade from a person’s lifespan and negatively affect quality of life.
Quitting is Hard But Totally Worth It
Smoking is one of the hardest addictions to break, both due to the chemical dependency on nicotine and the social factors surrounding its use. Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to protect your health.