Lung Disease

WHY MIGHT OLDER ADULTS WITH HIV HAVE LUNG DISEASE?

Lung diseases are more common in people with HIV. They are more likely to have lung cancer, lung infections, and emphysema (difficulty breathing). Apart from common causes of lung disease like smoking, HIV itself, and the chronic inflammation it causes, can also damage lung tissue over time.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE LUNG DISEASE?

Lung disease makes it hard to breathe and do the things you enjoy. It can cause pain or death, especially if lung cancer is the cause. Since the lungs work with the heart, people may also have heart damage if their lung disease is not controlled.

What you can do with your doctor

TELL YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU’RE SHORT OF BREATH

Shortness of breath can be serious. Don’t just chalk it up to age. Tell your doctor, even if your shortness of breath goes away once you rest. If ignored, it may start to happen even when you are resting and may never get better again. Deal with shortness of breath as early as possible to prevent lasting damage to your lungs.

ASK IF YOU NEED VACCINES

Get a flu shot every year, since flu can cause serious complications in people with HIV or lung disease.  A higher dose flu vaccine, Fluzone, is available for people over 65.  It’s designed to create a stronger immune response – ask your doctor if it’s right for you.  Also, get vaccinated against pneumonia. Severe pneumonia can cause decreased lung function and death, so it’s better to prevent it rather than to treat it after it happens.  The CDC recommends that people over 65 and all people with HIV get both the Prevnar and Pneumovax vaccines.

What you can do yourself

TAKE YOUR MEDS CORRECTLY

Take the right number of pills at the right time of day. If you use an inhaler, show your doctor how you use it, to make sure you’re using it correctly. The right pills and inhalers can help relieve coughing and breathing problems.

EAT A HEALTHY DIET

Eating proper food and keeping a healthy weight are important, since being overweight can make it harder to breathe. But being underweight might mean you’re not eating the right food to keep your lungs healthy. To plan a balanced diet, ask to see a nutritionist.

EXERCISE

Exercise expands and strengthens your lungs. Even a small amount of exercise helps, so any exercise is better than none. If you’re not sure where to start, ask to see a physical therapist. Besides helping you develop an exercise regimen, a therapist can teach you breathing exercises that reduce shortness of breath and allow you to do more.

DON’T SMOKE!

Smoking causes lung problems and many other diseases. Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. If you plan to quit smoking, ask your doctor for help. Avoid other things that may affect your lungs, like car exhaust and fumes from paint, cleaning supplies, and the like.

PROTECT YOURSELF AROUND SICK PEOPLE

Lung disease makes it harder to heal from lung infections. Take extra care when around sick people, especially those who are coughing, and wash your hands often.

A Sangarlangkam MD, R Havlik MD, S Karpiak PhD, J Appelbaum MD. Staying Healthy with HIV as You Age (2016). Published by the AAHIVM HIV Aging Consensus Project

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