Lichen planus - Symptoms 

Symptoms of lichen planus 

The symptoms of lichen planus vary depending on which area of the body is affected.

The areas of the body that can be affected by the condition include:

  • the skin
  • the mouth
  • the penis
  • the vulva (external female sex organs) and vagina

Lichen planus of the skin

The symptoms of lichen planus of the skin are:

  • purple-red coloured bumps (papules) that are slightly raised, shiny and have a flat top
  • the papules usually measure 3-5mm in diameter
  • the papules may also have irregular white streaks (Wickham's striae)
  • thicker scaly patches can appear, usually around the ankles  this is known as hypertrophic lichen planus
  • itchy skin

Lichen planus of the skin often affects the wrists, ankles and lower back, although other parts of the body can also be affected.

Thickened (hypertrophic) lichen planus affects the shins and ring-shaped lichen planus affects creases in the skin, such as the armpits. After the lesions have cleared, the affected area of skin can sometimes become discoloured.

Lichen planus of the mouth (oral lichen planus)

The symptoms of lichen planus of the mouth are:

  • a white pattern on the tongue and inner cheeks
  • white and red patches in the mouth
  • burning and discomfort in the mouth while eating or drinking
  • painful, red gums
  • recurring mouth ulcers

Mild cases of oral lichen planus do not usually cause any pain or discomfort.

Lichen planus of the penis

The symptoms of lichen planus of the penis are:

  • purple or white ring-shaped patches on the tip of the penis (glans)
  • bumps (papules) that are flat-topped and shiny
  • the rash is often not itchy

Lichen planus of the vulva and vagina

The symptoms of lichen planus of the vulva and vagina include:

  • soreness, burning and rawness around the vulva
  • the vulva may be covered in white streaks and be a red, pink or pale white colour
  • if the vagina is affected, sexual intercourse can be painful
  • if the outer layers of skin break down, moist, red patches can form
  • scar tissue can form, which distorts the shape of the vagina
  • a sticky, yellow or green discharge, which may be bloodstained
  • the opening of the vagina can become narrowed

Other areas

Sometimes, other areas can also be affected by lichen planus. These include:

  • the nails  these can become thinner, ridged and grooved, or they may become darker, thicker or raised, and may sometimes shed or stop growing
  • the scalp  red patches can appear around clusters of hair and in some cases, permanent hair loss can occur

Page last reviewed: 08/10/2012

Next review due: 08/10/2014

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