Lichen planus is a disease that can cause painful swelling, irritation, and erosions on the skin.
It can appear on any part of the body. It is most commonly seen inside the mouth (oral lichen planus) and on the genitals (vaginal/vulvar lichen planus).
About half of women with vaginal/vulvar lichen planus also have oral lichen planus. Their health care providers and dentists may not make the connection between the two.
UI Health Care’s team of vulvar vaginal disease specialists, dermatologists, dentists, and others collaborate to diagnose and treat lichen planus.
Our proven treatments relieve pain, heal irritation, and clear up your skin.
Lichen planus symptoms and diagnosis
Your immune system creates antibodies to fight infections. But when you have lichen planus, your antibodies attack and damage normal skin and tissue.
Here's what you can expect when you work with your provider to diagnose lichen planus:
- They'll discuss your symptoms with you.
- They may take a small skin sample (biopsy).
- They may test your vaginal discharge.
Signs of lichen planus
Signs of vaginal/vulvar lichen planus include:
- A larger-than-normal amount of vaginal discharge that doesn't get better after treatment for vaginitis. The discharge can be sticky, yellow, green, and/or bloody.
- Skin redness, soreness, burning, or rawness
- Bleeding or pain with sex
- Scarring that can cause the vagina to shorten, narrow, or close
- Patches of thickened skin
Signs of oral lichen planus include:
- Tender or painful skin inside the mouth
- Sores on the sides of the tongue, inside the cheek, or on the gums
- Mouth sores that form lines in a lacy network
- Sores accompanied by dry mouth
Signs of lichen planus elsewhere include:
- Sores and itching on the inner wrist, legs, torso, or genitals
- Symmetrical sores with sharp borders
- Sores that appear alone or in clusters, often at the site of a skin injury
- Sores that are covered with thin white streaks or scratch marks
- Sores that are shiny, scaly, or dark purple
- Sores that turn into blisters or ulcers
Lichen planus treatment from UI Health Care
While there isn't a cure for lichen planus, there are treatments that can help control your symptoms.
Treatment for lichen planus
For vulvar/vaginal lichen planus, your provider will likely recommend that you follow specific vulvar skin care guidelines. These guidelines—which range from using fragrance-free personal products to choosing certain birth control options—can reduce skin irritation.
Your provider may also prescribe vaginal dilators. They prevent narrowing of the vagina from lichen planus scarring.
Your treatment might also include:
- Steroid ointments or creams. These should be used only as prescribed. Overuse may cause thinning of the skin, which can make lichen planus worse.
- Tacrolimus ointment (Protopic)
- Pimecrolimus cream (Elidel)
A team approach to lichen planus treatment
Choosing UI Health Care for lichen planus treatment means that you have a team of experts working together on your care.
Our gynecologists and other specialists collaborate closely.
For example, if you have symptoms of vaginal/vulvar lichen planus, your provider may refer you to a UI Health Care dental specialist who can check for oral lichen planus.
If you see a UI Health Care dermatologist for lichen planus on your skin, they'll refer you to a gynecologist or dentist, if needed.
All your providers will work together to make a customized treatment plan for you. And they’ll communicate with each other, and you, to monitor your treatment and make sure you get relief.