What is lichen planus?

Lichen Planus
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What is lichen planus?

Lichen planus is a condition that mainly affects the skin and the mouth. It causes shiny reddish bumps on the skin or white spots inside the mouth. The bumps may cause pain or itching. You can have it on your scalp, nails, and genitals. It can also occur on the wrist, back, and legs.

Lichen planus

Lichen planus is an uncommon, recurrent skin condition that causes itchy, shiny reddish purple spots on the skin; gray-white spots in the mouth; glassy bright red spots on the vulva (the area around the vagina); and small patchy areas of hair loss (scarring alopecia).

The symptoms of lichen planus may begin abruptly or gradually. The initial occurrence may persist for weeks or months, and recurrences can continue over many years.

Lichen planus is not contagious. Although its exact cause is not known, it appears more often after exposure to medicines or chemicals.

Treatment of lichen planus focuses on relieving itching, such as with medicated creams. Severe cases may require prescription medicines taken by mouth or light treatment.

How do you care for yourself when you have lichen planus?

If it's on your skin

  • Try not to scratch. Scratching can make it worse.
  • Put cold, wet cloths on the area to reduce itching.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an antihistamine that might reduce itching and make you sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Wash the affected area with water only. Soap can make itching and dryness worse. Pat dry.

If you have it in your mouth

  • Brush your teeth twice each day, and floss once a day.
  • Have your teeth cleaned at least 2 times a year.
  • Avoid foods that irritate your mouth.
  • Stop smoking, stop using smokeless tobacco, and avoid alcohol.

If you have it on your genitals

  • Apply medicine as directed by your doctor.
  • If it's on your vulva:
    • Do not douche unless your doctor tells you to.
    • Avoid hot baths. Don't use soaps or bath products when you wash. Rinse with water only. And gently pat the area dry before you apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly.
  • If it's on your penis:
    • Keep your penis clean. If you haven't been circumcised, gently pull the foreskin back to wash your penis with warm water. Make sure your penis is dry before you get dressed.

Lichen planus: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The affected area grows or changes.
  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.