Lichen Sclerosus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
If you’ve heard of lichen sclerosus, it’s likely because you’re struggling with it. Though it is a relatively uncommon condition, it can cause severe discomfort. In this article we’ll explain in more detail what lichen sclerosus is, uncover some causes and symptoms, and propose some treatment options.
What is Lichen Sclerosus?
Lichen sclerosus is a rare skin condition that manifests as white patches on the skin. In areas where lichen sclerosus has struck, skin often looks thinner. It’s most common to find lichen sclerosus around the genital and anal areas, but it has also been known to appear on the torso, breasts, and upper arms.
Postmenopausal women and girls who haven’t begun menstruation are at highest risk for lichen sclerosus, but anyone can be affected by the disease, particularly men that are uncircumcised. Children may also be affected by the disease, but it often goes away with puberty. Contrary to popular belief, lichen sclerosus is not a sexually transmitted disease. Rather, it seems to be a genetic disorder and can be linked to other immune disorders or infections.
Lichen sclerosus will occasionally heal on its own without any treatment, but many find the symptoms so uncomfortable that they seek soothing treatments. Unfortunately, there is no known permanent cure for lichen sclerosus. That said, there are a number of treatment options that can provide lasting relief.
What are the symptoms of lichen sclerosus?
If you are dealing with only a minor case of lichen sclerosus, you may not have any signs or symptoms at all. If, on the other hand, you are dealing with a more serious bout of lichen sclerosus, you may find yourself battling the following symptoms around the genital area, upper arms, and upper body:
Symptoms of Lichen Sclerosus
- Red skin
- White or blotchy wrinkled areas on your skin
- Severe itchiness (also known as pruritis)
- Bleeding or tearing
- Ulcerated sores or tearing of skin
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Large red or purple bruises
- Painful spots around the foreskin of the penis or the vulva in females
Causes of Lichen Sclerosus
There is no known cause of lichen sclerosus, but there are certain speculations as to the origin of the condition. Some physicians believe lichen sclerosus may be linked with hormones or genetics. Others theorize that it is a result of your immune system attacking the skin. It’s also been noted that lichen sclerosus may possibly be caused by a previous skin injury. The good news is that lichen sclerosus is not contagious.
Lichen Sclerosus Treatment Options
While lichen sclerosus may not be curable, it can certainly be treated and soothed until symptoms subside. If quick action is taken and treatment is pursued, scarring can be reduced. It’s important to act quickly in order to reduce scarring, particularly around the vaginal (vulvar lichen sclerosus) or anal area, because scarring could result in the narrowing of anal or vaginal openings. There are a number of lichen sclerosus treatment options you can consider, including the following:
- Supportive care
- Specialist care
Lichen sclerosus treatment options related to medication most often involve anti-inflammatory, anti-itch topical creams. Some physicians may suggest prescription treatments and powerful corticosteroids. Many believe these stronger options can be effective, but they can at times be hard on the body, and less natural than homeopathic treatments. It’s typically best to pursue natural treatments, ointments, and creams that are free from harsh steroids and use only natural ingredients.
Supportive care means supporting yourself while you’re battling lichen sclerosus. It means watching closely to determine if the condition changes or improves, while giving yourself the rest and personal accommodations necessary to feel comfortable and to recover from symptoms. It may involve taking time to get the rest you need, getting plenty of fluids, and doing what you can to keep your immune system strong.
In the case of skin conditions, self-care is always advised. Take some time to examine your symptoms and don’t be afraid to treat yourself with a little bit extra tender love and care. Do what you can to keep the affected area clean, dry, and moisturized. If you have lichen sclerosus around the genital area, it’s best to wear comfortable cotton underwear. When sleeping at night, if possible, you may even consider removing your underwear to allow for more breathability and diminish possible chafing.
If lichen sclerosus symptoms become severe, it may be necessary to involve a specialist. Women may need to involve an OBGYN and most patients will seek out the help of a dermatologist if symptoms become severe. These specialists can help ensure that proper steps are taken and that everything possible is being done to treat symptoms.
It is rare, but in very extreme cases, lichen sclerosus complications may lead to surgery, particularly in the case of severe vulvar lichen sclerosus. The possible surgeries include cryosurgery, laser ablation, and vulvectomy.
If you’re battling lichen sclerosus, the road to relief can often seem like a long journey. You may feel embarrassed about your condition or that there is no relief in sight. Get the help you need and get on the road to relief as soon as possible.