Lichen simplex chronicus
Lichen simplex chronicus (LSC) is a skin condition caused by chronic itching and scratching.
LSC may occur in people who have:
- Skin allergies
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Nervousness, anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems
The problem is common in adults but may also be seen in children.
LSC leads to scratching, which then causes more itching. It often follows this pattern:
- It may start when something rubs, irritates, or scratches the skin, such as clothing.
- The person begins to rub or scratch the itchy area. Constant scratching (often during sleep) causes the skin to thicken.
- The thickened skin itches, and this leads to more scratching. This then causes more thickening of the skin.
- The skin may become leathery and brownish in the affected area.
- Itching of the skin that may be long-term (chronic), intense, and that increases with stress
- Leathery texture to the skin
- Raw areas of skin
- Skin lesion, patch, or plaque with sharp borders and a leathery texture, located on the ankle, wrist, back of the neck, rectum, anal area, forearms, thighs, lower leg, back of the knee, and inner elbow
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will look at your skin and ask if you have had chronic itching and scratching in the past. A skin lesion biopsy may be done to confirm the diagnosis.
The main treatment is to reduce the itch.
You may need to use these medicines on your skin:
- Lotion or steroid cream on the area to calm itching and irritation
- Numbing medicine
- Peeling ointments containing salicylic acid, lactic acid, or urea on patches of thick skin
You may need to use dressings that moisturize, cover, and protect the area. These may be used with or without medicated creams. They are left in place for a week or more at a time. Wearing cotton gloves at night may prevent skin damage from scratching.
To control itching and stress, you may need to take medicines by mouth, such as:
- Other oral medicines that control itch or pain
Steroids may be injected directly into the skin patches to reduce itching and irritation.
You may need to take antidepressants and tranquilizers if the cause of your itching is emotional. Other measures include:
- Counseling to help you realize the importance of not scratching
- Stress management
- Behavior modification
You can control LSC by reducing itch and controlling scratching. The condition may return or move to different areas on the skin.
These complications of LSC can occur:
- Bacterial and fungal skin infection
- Permanent changes in skin color
- Permanent scar
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
- Symptoms get worse
- You develop new symptoms, especially signs of skin infection such as pain, redness, drainage from the area, or fever
Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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Patterson JW. The psoriasiform reaction pattern. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Limited; 2021:chap 5.
Renzi M, Sommer LL, Baker DJ. Lichen simplex chronicus. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson IH, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2018:chap 137.
Zug KA. Eczema. In: Habif TP, Dinulos JGH, Chapman MS, Zug KA, eds. Skin Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 2.