What is Lichen Planus?
Lichen planus is an autoimmune disease characterized by an itchy rash that can occur on many pats of your body. Commonly affected areas include the legs, arms and trunk, the scalp, nails, the sexual organs and the mouth. It is a non-infectious disease with unknown causes but it is not inherited and cannot be passed to others even sexual partners.
Estimates suggest that lichen planus affects between 1 and 2% of the world’s population and it is most common in people over 40 years of age. Both genders are equally affected by the disease on the skin but the oral form of the disease is more common among women.
Oral lichen planus affects around half of all sufferers. Most cases of skin lichen planus clear up by themselves within nine months or so and the rash very rarely last over 18 months. Oral lichen planus tends to be more difficult to eradicate and may last longer.
Lichen Planus Symptoms
Symptoms of the disease vary depending on the body area affected.
The main symptom of lichen planus on the skin are itchy skin and purplish red, raised lumps on the skin called papules. Once the papules are gone, the skin may end up discolored.
- Oral lichen planus symptoms include white patterns on the inner cheeks and tongue, white and red patches inside the mouth, a burning sensation when eating and painful gums.
- Lichen planus which affects the penis is characterized by white patches on the penis glans, papules and a rash.
- Vaginal lichen planus causes a soreness or burning of the vulva region while the vulva may also be covered with white or red streaks. Sexual intercourse may be painful while scar tissue may form and distort the vagina’s shape.
Lichen Planus Treatment
There is no known cure for the disease and the aim of treatment is to clear up the rash and ease the other symptoms.
The treatment options again depend on the type of lichen planus that you have but whatever the type, there are certain measures that you can take.
Lichen Planus of Skin
- Use plain water when you wash; avoid using soap products.
- When washing your hair, try to avoid skin contact with your shampoo. Washing your hair over the sink should help.
- Moisturize the skin with an emollient.
Oral Lichen Planus
- Visit the dentist more often than usual.
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods.
- Try not to eat sharp textured food like crust bread and stick to soft food.
- Try to avoid alcohol, especially strong spirits.
- Don’t smoke.
- Use mild toothpastes.
- Avoid alcohol based mouthwash.
Other Common Treatments for skin and nail lichen planus
The most common treatment for lichen planus of the nails and the skin are corticosteroid creams or ointments and corticosteroid tablets. These can help reduce the inflammation and itchiness caused by the condition. Unfortunately, not everybody responds well to topical corticosteroid treatment and there are several potential side effects including the following:
- Stinging skin.
- Thinning skin.
- Redness to the skin.
- Stretch marks and lightened skin.
- Contact dermatitis.
- Excessive growth of hair.
If the condition does not respond to topical treatment, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroid tablets. These can also have certain side effects including:
- Increased appetite and weight gain.
- Fluid retention.
- Mood changes and irritability.
Home Treatment for Lichen Planus
If you are among the many people who suffers from the side effects of corticosteroid treatment, there are various home remedies that may well prove effective. The advantage of these remedies is that they are safe and unlikely to result in any adverse side effects.
Whether or not they work for you is uncertain but with a little trial and error, you will hopefully get the condition under control. Here are some of the remedies that people have found most effective.
Turmeric is a spice that has been well studied scientifically for its health benefits and is known to have powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Its major active ingredient – curcumin is responsible for many of its benefits and many people have found that it can help ease the symptoms associated with lichen planus.
Simply add enough turmeric to a small amount of water and mix it up until you are left with a smooth, thick paste. Apply the paste to the affected area of you skin to get relief from itchy rashes and lesions. Alternatively, you can combine your turmeric powder with milk and flour and apply the mixture to your skin.
A recent pilot study into the effects of turmeric on oral lichen planus proved very encouraging. (1)
For people suffering with oral lichen planus, simply chewing on sage can be a very effective remedy that can help take away some of the pain. If you find chewing on sage too difficult, then you can prepare a tea with dried sage and drink that up instead.
3) Aloe Vera
Fresh Aloe vera gel is an excellent companion for the skin with a wide array of healing benefits. Many people suffering from lichen planus of their skin find that applying Aloe vera to the affected areas either alone or combined with honey offers a great deal of comfort. Drinking plenty of aloe vera juice may also have a positive effect on your overall health.
Oats otherwise known as Avena sativa have a very long and distinguished history of use in medicine. When they are applied topically to the skin, they help relieve the redness and itching that are so familiar to people with lichen planus.
Mix up some oats with enough water to make a smooth paste and apply the resulting paste to the affected area of your skin and you will hopefully get some fast relief.
Oats may also have the ability to relieve stress which might be a factor in lichen planus outbreaks. According to botanists, an alkaloid called gramine present in the oats may be responsible for their calming influence.
5) Essential Oils
There are literally hundreds of essential oils on the market today and most are safe to apply topically as long as they are used properly. Many lichen planus sufferers have found that using essential oils on their skin provides a great deal of comfort by easing the itching and reducing redness and rashes.
Once you have chosen the best essential oil for you, it is important that you dilute it properly with a carrier oil – for lichen planus, extra virgin coconut oil and olive oil are ideal. Then be sure to perform a patch test to make sure you are not sensitive.
Do not ingest your essential oils as they are extremely strong but if you are suffering from oral lichen planus, you could try gargling with a few drops combined with water which may help relieve your mouth pain.
When it comes to oral lichen planus, borax is one of the best home remedies that you can try. Patients who have ulcers on their tongue and the inside of their cheeks can really benefit from using borax. Many people who have had success report using 1/8th of a teaspoon mixed with water twice a day.
If you have lichen planus, one of the possible causes is stress. As well as changing your dietary habits, it is important to stay as stress free as possible and there are several herbal remedies that can help. Valerian is an herb with excellent sedative qualities. It is often used by herbalists to treat nervous disorders and insomnia.
By calming your nerves, valerian may also help prevent lichen planus outbreaks. Be sure not to combine the herb with any antidepressants or sedative medications.