AIDS / HIV: How the Eye is Affected

What Is AIDS?

AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a virus that breaks down the body’s immune system. You develop AIDS when your immune system is no longer able to keep your body healthy.

When your immune system breaks down, all areas of your body are susceptible to infection—including the eye. While people with HIV who are in good health are not likely to experience eye problems, it’s estimated that 70 percent of people with advanced AIDS experience eye disorders, including HIV retinopathy and CMV retinitis. Other less common conditions include ocular surface tumors, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva. 

If you or someone you know has HIV and develops the following symptoms, please call your health care provider to find out if you may need ophthalmologic evaluation.


  • Blurred vision
  • Floaters
  • Growths on the eye
  • Eye pain
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Eye redness


AIDS is caused by HIV, a virus that breaks down the body’s immune system. HIV lives and reproduces in human blood and other body fluids and is transmitted when infected fluids enter your body. 

Risk Factors

If you maintain the health of your immune system through antiviral drug treatments, you are at lower risk of developing HIV-related eye diseases.

Tests and Diagnosis

Tests and diagnosis depend on the particular HIV-related eye disease.

Treatment and Drugs

Treatment of HIV-related eye disease is focused on what is found during an ophthalmic examination.  Most importantly, effective antiretroviral therapy must be prescribed by an infectious disease specialist to reestablish immune function. If an ocular infection is diagnosed, it will be treated by a combination of oral antimicrobials with or without direct injection of medication into the affected eye.  Patients with HIV or AIDS should be followed regularly by an ophthalmologist for routine monitoring especially if they are not on antiretroviral therapy or have low CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts.

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Reviewed by Mark Johnson, MD