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Understanding Lichen Planus

Lichen planus is a long-term (chronic) skin disease. It’s a rash. It is not contagious, so it doesn't spread from person to person. It is not cancer (benign). The rash can develop anywhere on the body. But it most often occurs on the wrists, arms, legs, scalp, and genitals. It may also be seen on the nails and in the mouth. People ages 30 to 60 are more likely to get it.

 How to say it

LY-ken PLAY -nuhs

What causes lichen planus?

The cause of lichen planus is often not known. But metals such as gold may trigger it. So may some medicines. These may include blood pressure, heart and arthritis medicines, and medicines to prevent malaria. Some research suggests the disease may also be linked to hepatitis C.

Symptoms of lichen planus

  • On the skin. Lichen planus causes flat-topped bumps or patches to form. These bumps may be very itchy. They are often shiny reddish or purple in color. They are often straight-edged (or polygonal), not round. They may also have fine white lines on them. Over time, the bumps may form thick patches of rough, scaly skin.

  • In the mouth. The condition may look like patches of white lace. These are often not painful.

  • On the genitals. The skin here becomes bright red and raw. Sometimes sores can appear. These can make sex painful.

  • On the nails. It can cause the nails to become thin, split, and form grooves.

Treatment for lichen planus

Lichen planus often goes away in a few years. It may go away without treatment. To ease itching and improve the look of the rash, treatment options may include:

  • Steroids. These medicines can be put directly onto the skin or injected into the affected area. They can also be taken by mouth.

  • Other medicines. Your healthcare provider may give you other medicines, such as an antihistamine or retinoid, to ease itching and pain. Anti-itch creams or ointments may also work. Your provider might also prescribe other medicines that suppress the immune system.

  • Phototherapy. This treatment directs ultraviolet light on the skin to help clear it.

Self-care tips for lichen planus

  • Don’t scratch any affected areas. This can sometimes spread the rash.

  • Use mild soap and moisturizing lotion after bathing.

  • Having lichen planus in your mouth may raise your risk of getting cancer in your mouth (oral cancer). To reduce that risk:

    • Stop smoking, chewing tobacco, and drinking alcohol.

    • Get an oral cancer screening every 6 to 12 months. You can get this from your dentist or dermatologist.

    • Brush your teeth twice a day.

    • Floss every day.

    • Get a dental checkup and cleaning twice a year.

    • Don't have foods or drinks that can make lichen planus in the mouth worse. This includes spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices (such as oranges and grapefruits), tomatoes and foods made with tomatoes (such as salsa, pasta sauces, and ketchup), crispy and salty snacks (such as corn chips), and drinks that have caffeine (such as coffee, tea, and cola).

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • New symptoms

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse

  • Mouth sores

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