What is lichen planus?

Lichen planus is a fairly common rash that usually develops on the skin or inside the mouth. The rash can be itchy or tender with some swelling and appear as either small, reddish purple raised bumps on the skin or as bluish-white spots in the mouth in a vaguely lacy pattern. The skin lesions tend to occur on the inside of the wrists or the torso, legs or genitals, but can also affect the scalp and nail beds. Mouth lesions most frequently affect the tongue or inside of the cheek but may occasionally appear on the gums.

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Lichen planus most often affects middle-aged adults. It is not usually serious and may get better when treated with topical agents or medicated mouthwashes. Mild symptoms may not need treatment at all. In some cases, the disorder may last for weeks to months, usually clearing up within 18 months. Lichen planus can recur on and off for years after treatment, however. In rare cases, long-term ulcers in the mouth significantly increase your risk of developing oral cancer.

Lichen planus is rarely a serious disorder. However, left untreated, some cases do not resolve on their own but spread, and in the case of long-term ulcers inside the mouth, you run a higher risk of developing oral cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you have had mouth sores, an abnormal taste in the mouth, pain while chewing or swallowing, speech difficulties, or unexplained weight loss. Malignant lesions in the mouth may be painless at first and are often pale in color and may have deep cracks.

You should also seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for lichen planus but symptoms recur or are persistent, or if you have other concerns about your disorder.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of lichen planus?

Symptoms of lichen planus include itchy or tender areas in the mouth or on the skin, possibly accompanied by swelling. Lesions on the skin may resemble pimples and usually appear as small, reddish-purple raised bumps. The rash appears as bluish-white spots on the tongue or inside the cheeks and can occasionally occur on the gums. The affected area may show a lacelike pattern. The skin lesions tend to occur on the inner wrists, legs, torso, or genitals. These symptoms may resolve on their own or with treatment, but they usually clear up within 18 months. If the condition is uncomfortable,... Read more about lichen planussymptoms

CAUSES

What causes lichen planus?

The exact cause of lichen planus is not known. It may be related to either allergy or immune reaction. Possible allergens include medications and other chemicals, including antibiotics, arsenic, chloroquine, diuretics, gold, iodides, phenothiazine or quinacrine.... Read more about lichen planuscauses

TREATMENTS

How is lichen planus treated?

Treatment of lichen planus focuses on reducing symptoms and speeding the healing of lesions. Although the disorder itself will take some weeks to months to resolve and can recur, mild symptoms may not need medication. If your physician does recommend treatment, you should follow your treatment plan carefully because lichen planus can spread to adjacent areas, and sores in the mouth can eventually form ulcers or blisters.... Read more about lichen planustreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails


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