Lichen sclerosis is a disorder in which the skin becomes chronically inflamed, usually in the genital or the anal sections of the body; however, it can be found on the upper arms, breasts, or torso, as well. Although it can affect anyone, it is most common in women who are post-menopausal. In men, it is uncommon and in children, it is only rarely seen in uncircumcised boys.
Regardless of whether the affected person is an adult or a child, the symptoms of lichen sclerosis are similar. At the onset, the person will have small, white spots that are shiny and quite smooth. Then, the spots become larger patches and the skin becomes thinner and is no longer smooth. Because of the way lichen sclerosis changes the thickness and texture of the skin, it is prone to tears, discoloration, blisters, and bruising. In addition, the skin can become incredibly scarred, affecting the size of the genitals in women.
Depending on the severity, a person with lichen sclerosis may not have any symptoms, while others may experience extreme pain and uncontrollable itching. Also, if the person is affected in non-genital areas, such as the arms or torso, she may only experience itching. Other problems can arise from lichen sclerosis in the genital or anal areas, such as the inability to perform sexual intercourse, pain when urinating, or constipation.
Researchers are not certain of what causes lichen sclerosis. Some believe it is a result of an overactive immune system. Others blame hormones on the disorder. In addition, genetics are thought to play a large role in whether a person will be affected with lichen sclerosis. Importantly, it is not contagious and cannot be spread through contact from one person to another.
People who are affected by lichen sclerosis can treat it. Generally, if the outbreak is on the arms or torso, it will disappear on its own. In the alternative, if it is on the genital or anal areas of the body, it needs to be treated. If left untreated, lichen sclerosis in the genital and anal areas may lead to skin cancer. Treatment options include surgery, cortisone creams, retinoids, tacrolimus gels, and ultraviolet light treatment for the non-genital areas of the body.
People who have been diagnosed with lichen sclerosis will need to have check-up with their doctors every six months to one year. Doing so will prevent a re-occurrence. In addition, the doctor will be able to check to make sure the disorder was not replaced with skin cancer.