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What is Lichen Planus?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Diego Cervo, Jasmin Merdan, Benicce, Gilitukha, Dalaprod, Karen Winton, n/a, Joshya
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Lichen planus refers to a condition that can cause an itchy, bumpy rash on the skin or sometimes on the scalp or in the mouth. This is not an infectious rash, which is a good thing, but it can be difficult to put up with painful itching, and the condition can take several years to fully clear up. Others do have the inflammation clear sooner, within a few months.

There is not that much known about the causes of lichen planus. Some people who get it have scarring on their liver or have Hepatitis C, but many people who get it have normal and healthy livers, making this connection tenuous. Usually it most affects people who are in middle age, but people of other ages may get it too.

The symptoms of lichen planus include rash that can cover arms, legs, trunk, genitals, or scalp. The rash is flat on top, but it itches painfully, and can be any color from pink to red to purple. If the scalp is involved, hair loss is common. The rash is also noted for burning if it’s located on the mucus membranes, like parts of the genitals or in the mouth. When bumps are present in the mouth they usually become open sores, and some people note a metallic in their mouths or dry mouth.

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Should people have a rash like this and suspect lichen planus it’s worth seeing a doctor. Though most treatments don’t immediately cure the illness, they may reduce inflammation and help people be more comfortable. Typical treatments for lichen planus can include creams with corticosteroids that help to reduce itching. Some people may need to take an oral steroid to help bring down inflammation more effectively. Medications like antihistamines might also be recommended to keep itching to a minimum.

As mentioned, it can take a while for lichen planus to resolve, and some people get the rash back again, just as it is seeming to go away. Oral forms of the condition are usually the most tenacious and make take the longest to cure. Eventually most people do recover from this painful skin condition and most won’t get it again.

It can be challenging while lichen planus is present because constant itching is certainly crazy-making. In addition to using whatever creams are recommended by a doctor, many people find they are made more comfortable by oatmeal or cornstarch soaks, and by wearing comfortable breathable clothing, made of natural fibers. Doctors could recommend other medications too if the condition is creating challenges with sleeping or concentrating. Sometimes using tranquilizers or merely using antihistamines can help.

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