Lichen planus is a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, flat, scaly patches on the wrists, legs, trunk, or genitals. It can also affect the inside of the mouth and vagina, where it resembles a white spider web, may ulcerate, and, rarely, can become cancerous. The scalp and fingernails can also be affected. It may become wart-like in thickness and may continue on and off for months or years. Scratching makes this condition worse.
Not much is known about the cause of lichen planus. It is one of many skin diseases brought on by certain medications or diseases.
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing a disease or condition. Lichen planus is more likely to occur in the presence of:
- Liver disease
- Systemic lupus erythmatosis (“lupus”)
- Certain prescription medications
- Graft vs. host disease
The condition is more common in females and in those 30 to 60 years old (rare in children and the eldelry).
Many skin and mucous membrane conditions appear similar. Only your physician, or perhaps only a dermatologist, can tell them apart. If you have anything resembling lichen planus, do not assume that is what it is. Skin conditions may be isolated, or they may be signs of more serious internal disease. See your physician to be sure.
- Itching, flat-topped purplish bumps or scaly patches, especially on the palm side of the wrists, the top of the foot and shins, the trunk, the genitals, or the scalp
- Milky-white, spider web-like patches in your mouth or vagina
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medications, and medical history. He or she will also perform a physical exam. You may be referred to a dermatologist. If the diagnosis is unclear, the dermatologist may may perform a skin biopsy.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
- Topical or oral antihistamines to relieve itching
- Other topical anti-itching products (pramoxine, phenol, menthol, eucalyptus oil)
- Soothing soaks (oatmeal, Burows solution 1:40)
- Retinoid medictions may be useful, particular for lesions in the mouth
- Ultraviolet light combined with oral medication is also been effective in widespread or resistant cases
Topical steroids may be used to help decrease inflammation. Steroids may also be injected by a needle directly into a lesion. Oral or intravenous steroids are reserved for severe cases.
There is no known way to prevent lichen planus, except to avoid any medications that may have triggered it in the past.