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Lichen Planus


Lichen planus is a condition that causes a bumpy rash to develop on the skin. The rash typically forms on the wrists, back, legs, torso or genitals, but may occur anywhere. Lesions or sores may also develop in the mouth. Lichen planus is not a contagious condition and it often affects middle-aged adults but rarely occurs in children.

Symptoms of Lichen Planus

Lichen planus lesions on the skin may appear alone or in clusters and are often itchy and can sometimes become painful. The lesions may be distinguished by a white streak running through the center. Additional characteristics of lichen planus on the skin may include:

  • Patches of thickened, rough skin
  • Shiny or scaly appearance
  • Reddish-purple color

Lichen planus can also appear in the mouth, on the nails or on the external genitals. In the mouth, lichen planus forms pimples or ulcers on the tongue, inner cheek or gums, that may be painful. Ridges or grooves may appear on the nails of the hands or feet as a result of lichen planus. Purple, flat-topped bumps or painful ulcers may appear on the external surface of the genitals.

Causes of Lichen Planus

The exact cause of lichen planus is unknown, however, research indicates it may be caused by an autoimmune disorder. In some cases, an allergic reaction may be suspected as the cause of lichen planus. Other possible causes may include:

  • Hepatitis C infection
  • Flu vaccine
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, metals or dyes
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Heredity

Certain medications for heart disease, high blood pressure or arthritis may also cause lichen planus to appear on the skin.

Diagnosis of Lichen Planus

Lichen planus can often be diagnosed by reviewing symptoms and examining the rash. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Blood tests may also be performed to rule out any underlying causes such as a Hepatitis C infection. Additional allergy tests may also be performed.

Treatment of Lichen Planus

Mild cases of lichen planus that do not cause discomfort generally do not require any treatment. For moderate to severe cases, treatment typically involves the use of antihistamines, corticosteroids, oral or topical retinoids or ultraviolet light therapy. Mouth ulcers may be treated with oral rinses that contain lidocaine to help ease the pain. In severe cases, some patients may benefit from medication such as cyclosporine, that helps to suppress the immune system.