Once upon a time obvious physical symptoms were common among HIVers, from wasting syndromes to kaposi's sarcoma lesions. Thankfully, HIVers no longer share those tell-tell physical manifestations of the disease. But that doesn't mean you don't have to do some extra work to stay sexy, as immune-compromised folks often have specific issues to watch out for. Here are a few tips:
1. Keep your pucker ready for kissing. Thrush (a common fungus called Candida that recurs in HIVers with high CD4 counts) and canker sores can both cause an icky looking tongue and white spots in the mouth. The best thing you can do is brush after every meal, floss, gargle with antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine, see your dentist every six months, and cut back on booze (but eat up more yogurt, it helps fight Candida).If you get thrush, talk to your doc, because there are topical meds and medicated throat lozenges that can help.
2. Don't give up on those six-pack abs. The best thing for keeping fit is following a low fat diet and exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day. Hate both? Try jump-starting your routine by reading Working Out Sucks: And Why It Doesn't Have To, Chuck Runyon's 21-day fitness kick-start program, or Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. The latter may sound drastic (no steak?) but a vegan diet actually reduces risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several forms of cancer. Munch on that.
3. Get other help when your body won't cooperate. Even if you're working out and eating right, HIVers can sometimes get Lipodystrophy, a fat redistribution syndrome that can give you a fat abdomen, the dreaded buffalo hump on your back, and sunken cheeks or facial features. Don't fret. Some protease inhibitors are most common culprits of Lipodystrophy, so talk with the doc about perhaps switching meds or treating it with other medications. If all else fails, cheek implants and other fat redistribution are increasingly common forms of plastic surgery for HIVers.
4. Keep having sex. Researchers at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. discovered that having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that can protect you from colds and other infections. Sadly, one of the top reasons some men stop taking their meds is because of erectile dysfunction. Don't stop your meds. But do get treatment for ED, which can be treated by switching or adding medication to your regime, or boosting testosterone levels. For women, sexual dysfunction is a bit murkier but no less treatable, so don't be ashamed to talk to your doctor as well. Having (safe) sex is crucial to looking good.
5. Think squeaky clean. You may think acne is just for teens but when an HIVer gets a zit, well, it can take eons to go away. Also, folliculitis, an inflammation of hair follicles that can cause clogged, inflamed pus-filled pores, often occurs in places where you shave (yes, even down there). To avoid both, experts say to use soap and water frequently, switch to electric razors, ditch those skintight jeans, and, if necessary, see your doc for antibiotics.
6. Don't be rash. Everyone gets 'em but HIVers are more susceptible to rashes and skin hyperpigmentation, which causes dark patches of skin caused by increased melanin. See a dermatologist so she can rule out other conditions (like rosacea), and can direct you to over-the counter treatments (like face cream with alpha hydroxy acids) or prescription treatments (like Retinol).
7. Drink lots of fluids. You've heard this before; it's true for anyone hoping to look good. (And no, margaritas do not count.)
8. Get a mani-pedi. Very few people dislike having someone pamper their tootsies, and these days even dudes are getting their fingernails cleaned and buffed professionally. But, if anything looks red or swollen see a doctor instead. HIVers are susceptible to Paronychia, a soft tissue infection around nails. Soaking your nails in warm water a few times a day can help alleviate symptoms but if the swelling persists for a few days, skip the over the counter treatments (research says they don't work on paronychia) and see your doc for antibiotics.
9. Take your vitamins. Make sure you're getting enough Vitamin D. Most American's aren't getting enough of this sunshine drug but it's one of the best way to stay alert and prevent a host of diseases. And, have an orange, too: vitamin C is thought to counteract skin damage caused by aging.
10. Remember what we said about sex? Orgasms make you sleep better, lowers your prostate cancer risk, reduces pain (thanks to a surge in oxytocin), and even burns calories. Maintaining a healthy sex life'even if it's with yourself'keeps you looking and feeling great year round.