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WHAT IS LICHEN PLANUS?
Lichen planus is a skin condition. It appears as purple or reddish-purple bumps on the skin. The bumps have flat tops and are uneven in shape. If you look at the bumps closely, you might see white scales or flakes on them. Lichen planus can appear on any area of the skin. The most common areas are the inner wrists, the forearms and the ankles.
Lichen planus may also affect the scalp, the nails or the inside of the mouth. On the scalp, lichen planus may cause hair loss. Lichen planus of the nails can cause brittle or split nails. In the mouth, it looks like lacy white patches on the inside of the cheeks or on the tongue. Sometimes lichen planus affects areas of skin where you had a cut or burn.
Men and women can get lichen planus, and while it may occur at any age, it usually affects middle-aged adults.
WHAT CAUSES LICHEN PLANUS?
In many cases, the cause of lichen planus can’t be found. However, you can’t “catch” lichen planus from someone else or “give” it to someone else. It is not caused by stress, but sometimes stress makes it worse. Some cases may be linked to a virus called hepatitis C. This virus can cause liver disease. Your doctor may need to order a blood test to check for hepatitis C virus. Some medicines can cause lichen planus. It is important to tell your doctor all the medicines you are taking.
HOW WILL LICHEN PLANUS AFFECT ME?
Lichen planus usually causes itching. The itching can be mild or very bad. Sometimes the bumps don’t itch, but typically they do. You may have just a few small bumps or you may have many. After the bumps go away, they may leave a dark brown area on the skin. This is more likely to happen in persons of Asian, Hispanic or African heritage. These brown spots are not scars. They will slowly fade away, but it may take many months. Lichen planus inside the mouth may cause painful sores that make it hard to eat.
HOW CAN I BE SURE I HAVE LICHEN PLANUS?
Only your doctor can tell if you have lichen planus. If you have reddish-purple bumps on the skin, you should see your doctor. The doctor may want you to have blood tests or a skin biopsy. For a biopsy, a small bit of skin is taken from one of the purple bumps. It is sent to a laboratory to see if it is lichen planus.
HOW IS LICHEN PLANUS TREATED?
There is no cure for lichen planus, but medicine can help the itching and rash get better. If your itching is very bad, your doctor may suggest an antihistamine (one brand name: Benadryl).
Most of the time, the bumps go away without any treatment after about a year. However, treatment can make your skin look better. If lichen planus is only on a small part of your body, you can use a hydrocortisone cream (one brand name: Cortaid) that you apply directly to the bumps. You should be careful when putting the cream on your face, under your arms or on your genital area.