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What Is Lichen Planus?
Lichen planus is a common disease that causes inflammation (swelling and irritation) on your skin or inside your mouth. On your skin, lichen planus causes a rash that is usually itchy. Inside your mouth, it may cause burning or soreness.
What Causes Lichen Planus?
The cause of lichen planus is usually not known, although possible causes include:
- Hepatitis C, a virus that attacks your liver
- Certain medications, including some drugs used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and malaria
- Reactions to metal fillings in your teeth
- An autoimmune reaction, meaning the body's own defense system, the immune system, attacks your mouth and skin cells by mistake
Signs and Symptoms of Lichen Planus
Symptoms of lichen planus depend on the part of your body affected. Common symptoms include:
- Skin: The most common symptoms are shiny red or purple bumps. These bumps are firm and may itch a little or a lot; you may have just a few or many of them. Fine white lines or scales may accompany the bumps. They can occur anywhere, but are most common on your wrists, arms, back and ankles. Thick scaly patches may appear on your shins and ankles. Sometimes, bumps on your skin may appear in an area where your skin has been scratched or burned. Dark skin patches may replace skin bumps that fade. These patches usually fade away after many months.
- Mouth: Lichen planus inside your mouth looks like lacy patches of tiny white dots. These patches may occur on the inside of your cheeks or on your tongue. They may not cause any other symptoms; in severe cases, redness and sores develop.
- Nails: Lichen planus may appear on some or all of your fingernails and toenails. Thinning, ridges, splitting and nail loss are signs of the condition.
- Scalp: Redness, irritation and tiny bumps can form on your scalp. In some cases, hair may start to thin and patches of hair loss may occur.
- Genitals: Lichen planus in your genitals can cause bright red, painful areas.
Managing Lichen Planus Symptoms
You can’t do much to prevent lichen planus, but once you have it, you can take steps to keep it from getting worse.
- Avoid injuries to your skin.
- Apply cool compresses instead of scratching.
- Limit the stress in your life.
- For oral lichen planus, stop smoking, avoid alcohol, maintain good oral hygiene and avoid any foods that seem to irritate your mouth.
Treatment for Lichen Planus
Your physician may take a biopsy of tissue from your mouth to diagnose lichen planus. If you have no symptoms, you probably do not need treatment.
If you have symptoms, such as severe itching or sores in your mouth or genital area, treatment can help. If you have lichen planus on your scalp, treatment is important to prevent permanent hair loss.
Lichen planus is not a dangerous disease, and it usually goes away on its own. However, in some people, it may come back because has no permanent cure. Treatments can help relieve your symptoms and speed healing, including:
- Antihistamine medications to relieve itching
- Oral or topical steroid medications on your skin or in your mouth to fight inflammation
- PUVA, an ultraviolet light treatment
- Retinoic acid, a medication derived from vitamin A and usually used for acne
- Tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, ointments used for eczema
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (310) 825-6911.