Lichen planus is an autoimmune skin disease that causes swelling in certain areas of the skin. This symptom is associated with special features that have given the disease its name: it resembles lichen growing in plants and especially on tree trunks.
Lichens are mushrooms growing in forests. Although the disease is not a fungal infection in humans, it is nonetheless given that name. The adjective “planus,” in turn, describes the mild skin changes that the disease causes on the skin, scalp, and mucous membranes.
Lichen planus is a fairly common disease: it is estimated that up to 1% of the world’s population suffers from it. It is more common in women than men, and is also more common in Caucasians.
Causes of red lichen
Lichen planus is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks its own cells because it does not recognize them. In this case, the immune system attacks the cells in the skin and mucous membranes.
Although inflammation is known to be an immune reaction, the root cause of its onset is unknown. It is also not known why it manifests as abrupt and can last indefinitely.
However, some triggering situations have been identified that are associated with the onset of symptoms. These situations include:
- Exposure to some chemicals.
- Medicines. For example, ibuprofen and cardiovascular drugs.
- Vaccines. The influenza vaccine has been linked to the outbreak of red lichen.
- Hepatitis C. Infected people usually have red lichen.
How red lichen is symptomatic
The main symptom of red lichen is purplish, flat beans on the skin. These beans can merge together into larger spots. They most often occur in the upper limbs and ankles.
In addition to inflammation, this disease also causes:
- Ulcers and blisters. The former on the mucous membranes, the latter on the skin.
- Hair loss. This occurs when red lichen occurs on the scalp.
Lichen planus can lead to the Köbner phenomenon, which means the spread of isomorphic lesions to damaged, previously healthy skin (e.g., as a result of scratching).
Lichen planus does not manifest in the same way in all patients. Experts have identified different manifestations:
- Oral lichen. Occurs in the oral cavity. In addition to inflammation, it causes ulcers in the oral mucous membranes that make eating difficult. It is not easy to care for and can take months. Oral lupus has been linked to oral cancer, which is why people with it should undergo regular oral checkups to prevent the development of cancer.
- Warty. Usually appears on the feet. Lesions become scaly.
- Nails. In this case, red lichen is present in the nails.
- Planopilaris. This type of red lichen occurs in the scalp hair follicles. It leads to one type of alopecia, or hair loss. It is difficult to treat, like red lichen in the mouth.
There is no cure for red lichen. Some forms of red lichen become chronic and difficult to control, such as oral red lichen and planopilaris. The main goal of a medical professional is to control the patient’s symptoms.
Some treatments include:
- Drugs that regulate the immune system. Their job is to reduce the inflammatory response.
- Corticosteroids. Because these are good anti-inflammatory drugs, they may be prescribed for oral or topical use. There are also corticosteroid injections. Although they tend to cause side effects, sometimes they are the only option to relieve symptoms.
- Lidocaine. Oral mucosal lesions caused by red lichen may interfere with eating, which is why local anesthetics are sometimes prescribed by a doctor.
- Vitamin A creams. Vitamin A nourishes the skin excellently. Although it does not relieve symptoms, it can promote healing.
- Ultraviolet light (UV light). Ultraviolet light therapy has been shown to be useful in the treatment of red lichen. If lichen is very widespread, treatment may be needed for months.
Lichen planus is a common disease that requires treatment
Lichen planus is a type of inflammatory autoimmune disease that can occur in different parts of the body, such as the mouth, nails, and scalp. The doctor should diagnose the patient before prescribing treatment. So if you recognize the symptoms of red lichen, go to the doctor.