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Eczema or is it Lichen Planus?

Updated: Nov 15, 2019

Lichen Planus - ever heard of it? I hadn't and since almost every scholarly reference online that discuss the condition says it's rare, no wonder it wasn't easy to identify...but I question if it's really rare or maybe it's just lumped in the common eczema diagnosis.

Before I get started, I have to tell you that I am not a licensed medical professional and this blog post reflects my humble opinion based off personal experience and what I’ve discovered through research, which I share at the end of the post. I am sharing with you what I encountered as a mother who literally tried EVERYTHING to figure out why my son’s “eczema“ was different than I had ever heard of and why it wasn’t improving. The hope is that by sharing this experience, we can help you or someone you know find peace and relief.

What are the signs?

Assuming that you are familiar with eczema - Lichen Planus looks similar. It also presents itself as tough, thick patches of skin; found mostly on the the neck, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles, and/or legs; bumpy, itchy, scaly; and worsens when triggered by allergies. However, a distinct characteristic is that Lichen Planus bumps are reddish-purple and can be very itchy and may appear more places on the body. We’ve only experienced it externally on the skin, but reports show that Lichen Planus can also appear in the mouth and on nail beds. Lichen Planus can appear in anyone, at any age; the reports vary depending on the study. Nevertheless, just like severe eczema, psoriasis, or any other acute skin condition, quality of life is diminished by the painful, itchy patches on the skin. The sleepless nights, inability to focus during the day because of the nagging painful itch, the embarrassment of darkened thick patches of skin...the list goes on and on.

Below are two examples of Lichen Planus on the skin. “Reprinted with permission from the American Academy of Dermatology.  All rights reserved.”

What Causes Lichen Planus?

Like eczema, Lichen Planus is an auto-immune response and it is unclear what causes it to develop. However, the body's immune system attacks the skin as if it were foreign. There is not enough research to understand the full scope of this auto-immune disease, but the good news is that Lichen Planus is benign and not contagious. Although we didn’t know our son had Lichen Planus at the time, we did know that it was triggered by an auto-immune response to something. Since he was suffering badly, we had him allergy tested for just about everything. However, all tests came back negative. That's when (under his doctor's supervision) we eliminated gluten, dairy, and processed foods from his diet. You can only imagine what our preschooler was going through with such restrictions on top of inflamed, itchy skin! With all the restrictions, there was still no mercy in his condition.

How Do I Know If It's Lichen Planus?

With a targeted biopsy, a dermatologist can tell you whether it's Lichen Planus. Unfortunately, the first dermatologist took a biopsy and could only confirm he had eczema; which we knew. But we also knew this was something more than eczema. Finally, two years later, a nurse at Children's Hospital could hear my exhausted desperation over the phone and connected me to a pediatric dermatologist who specializes in rare cases and has studied his craft all over the world. He kindly saw us the same day, took another biopsy, and told us that it was Lichen Planus. Like eczema, we were advised that there is no cure; he may eventually grow out of it; and we could receive more steroid creams. On one hand I was excited to finally have a diagnosis; but on the other hand, my only savior for his relief was a another steroid cream in addition to the three he was already using when the flare-ups got out of hand.

How To Find Relief?

Lichen Planus can last for a few months or a few years and can flare up at anytime. We have seen it come and go; however, the eczema tends to stay. There are many therapies from laser light treatments to topical steroid creams. Only your doctor can tell you what relief options are best. Once diagnosed we decided that since this may have been a lifelong endeavor, we had to take a completely natural approach and find alternative methods; which have worked tremendously. Since Lichen Planus is an auto-immune response, there has to be a trigger; although I have yet to figure out what causes his flare-ups. Like eczema, it seems that Lichen Planus can be triggered by the environment, stress, foods, and seasonal changes. There are myriads of natural ways to reduce the symptoms of auto-immune diseases, work with your doctor or holistic health practitioner for the best approach for you and your family.

So Now What?

Identifying the root cause provided peace of mind and a way forward. I often speak to others who are experiencing challenging skin issues and have no idea why. They are often placed in the "you have eczema" group. While that may be true, my research has shown that Lichen Planus may be more prevalent than we realize, but since there aren’t a lot of studies on the condition, it looks a lot like eczema, and treatments are similar - it's not talked about as much. As research develops, having the correct diagnosis may be beneficial for long term relief and natural healing. Below I've added links to online reference materials that you may find interesting on Lichen Planus.

A Few Tips for Eczema & Lichens Planus Relief

Whether it's eczema or Lichen Planus, I have learned A LOT in the last 6 years of researching, testing natural therapies, talking to all kinds of specialists, and connecting to others through shared experiences. I will write more posts on various things I've learned, but here are a few remedies that have really helped with calming down itchy and inflamed skin: Dead Sea Salt Soaks Unlike Epsom salt that is made up of mostly magnesium, sea salt has a much greater content of various nourishing minerals from the sea. Epsom salt is great for releasing muscle tension, but when it comes to soothing the skin from inflammation and itchiness, nothing worked better than Dead Sea salt. We added 1/4 cup to mildly warm (not hot and as close to room temp as I could) running water and swished the water around until all crystals were dissolved. Once dissolved, I placed our son in the water for about 10 minutes (no longer than 20 minutes) letting him soak - followed by a moisturizer (his oil that I made). Nighttime Cool Downs While sleeping under the covers, our son would overheat and sweat during the night. The sweat would cause his rashes to flare up and become more painful. To combat this problem, we traded in flannel pajamas for cotton shorts sets, added a small fan that we aimed at the ceiling, and turned the heat down in the house to a lower setting at night. Making these changes still allowed him to use the covers, but helped to regulate the sweating. Skin Barriers Keeping the skin moisturized with with an unscented lotion is an important step in relieving flare-ups and symptoms. Everyday we encounter environmental factors that can irritate the skin. Even clothes can cause irritation and dry out the skin, so every morning we put a moisturizer on our son's skin from head to toe. This not only relieved his symptoms, it created a barrier to protect his sensitive skin from possible irritants and triggers.

References for further information:

As promised, below are some links to read more about Lichen Planus. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/lichen-planus#overview https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lichen-planus/symptoms-causes/syc-20351378 https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/lichen-planus https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2009.01072.x https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/lichen-planus/


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DISCLAIMER: *These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. I am not making medical claims, this is not intended to treat cure or heal, we are not promising a cure

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