Unwanted spots could be lichen planus

Last Updated 18 January 2013, 15:32 IST

Lichen planus is a less known skin condition. It is a disease causing a prickly rash on the skin or in the mouth.

It is thought to be due to an abnormal immune reaction provoked by a viral infection or a drug. Other parts of the body may also be affected, including the nails and scalp. Scalp infection can result in hair loss- sometimes permanent.

Symptom of skin lichen planus include abrupt appearance of rash, thick patches of rough, scaly skin, extreme itching and blisters. Other symptoms include dry mouth, hair loss, metallic taste in the mouth and ridges in the nails. When symptoms disappear there may be dark brown or gray spots on the skin, which are more noticeable if the patient has dark skin.

The exact causes of lichen planus are unknown but since it is an auto immune disease, this means that the person’s immune system reacts as though the skin and other parts of body are alien. Some drugs, such as those containing arsenic, bismuth, or gold, can produce an eruption which appears identical to lichen planus. Many people with hepatitis C are likely to have lichen planus. Only the skin specialist may check to see whether you have this virus.

Only 1 to 2% of the population can have it. Even if there are signs and symptoms, people cannot catch it easily. Skin lichen planus affects men and women equally, but oral lichen planus affects women twice as often as men. Lichen planus generally affects middle-aged adults. It is less common in children.

A dermatologist may often be able to tell whether you have it by looking at your skin, nails or mouth on the basis of the typical clinical appearance. He may remove a bit of skin to be examined under a microscope to make sure.  The goal of treatment is to reduce your symptoms and speed healing of the skin lesions. If symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment. Lichen planus usually goes away by itself in time.

Some drugs can produce rashes that are similar in appearance to lichen planus. These rashes can be distinguished from lichen planus in that they go away when the offending drug is stopped.

(Published 18 January 2013, 15:32 IST)

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