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Lichen planus

Symptoms of lichen planus and similar conditions

Lichen planus is a relatively rare skin condition identifiable by the appearance of tiny papules or a flat-planed, white-topped itchy rash. It affects roughly 1 to 2 percent of the population, and is generally more common in women than in men.

There are two main types of lichen planus – lichen planus of the mouth and of the skin. The rash that appears with lichen planus of the skin can range from severely inflamed to barely detectable, while oral lichen planus is usually only noticeable by dentists, unless it is a severe case.

Lichen Planus Causes and Symptoms

The itchy skin rash that presents in lichen planus of the skin is usually a reddish-purple color. It can appear in many places on the body, including the back, legs, neck and genitals. Oral lichen planus appears inside the cheeks and on the tongue, lips and gums. Its characteristics include white lines and bumps that typically cause no discomfort at all, but in severe cases, ulcers and sores can appear in the mouth.

The official cause of lichen planus has not yet been discovered, but the condition is believed to be autoimmune, which means white blood cells are not defending the body against bacteria. Lichen planus has also been associated with allergy, blood pressure, arthritis and heart disease medication.

Lichen Planus Treatment

There is no cure for lichen planus, but the itchy skin rash is treatable. Topical creams and anti-inflammatory drugs can help remove the itch and inflammation, calming the skin until the outbreak passes. Ultraviolet light treatments have also been used in more severe cases of lichen planus.

In the case of oral lichen planus, outbreaks can last longer than those on the skin. Because the mouth is a sensitive area, oral and topical treatments are prescribed to help heal open sores. It's particularly important to pay close attention to dental hygiene during these outbreaks, as gum disease and infection can occur.

Lichen Planus Related Conditions

A condition closely related to lichen planus is lichen planopilaris, which affects parts of the body with lots of hair, such as the scalp. Along with itchiness and redness, this condition can cause hair to fall out. Lichen sclerosus is another related condition, in which white spots grow into large patches, first appearing on the genital and anal areas, then spreading to the breasts, arms and upper body.

Other conditions similar to lichen planus include:

  • Lichen simplex chronicus (a condition in which chronic scratching and itching occur in a self-perpetuating cycle)

  • Eczema (a condition that can cause patches of oozing skin pustules to appear on the skin)

  • Ichthyosis (a condition that causes scaly patches to appear on the skin)

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