Hairy leukoplakia

What is oral hairy leukoplakia?


Oral hairy leukoplakia is a condition triggered by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It causes white patches on your tongue. Sometimes the patches happen in other parts of your mouth. The patches may look hairy. This is where the name comes from. Oral hairy leukoplakia happens most often in people with weak immune systems. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) often causes this condition.


What causes oral hairy leukoplakia?


Oral hairy leukoplakia is caused by conditions that weaken the immune system. This includes the Epstein-Barr virus and HIV.


Who is at risk for oral hairy leukoplakia?


Oral hairy leukoplakia is most common in people with HIV. It may be a warning that your HIV has worsened. It is a sign of a weak immune system. If you have HIV and are exposed to EBV, you are at great risk of getting oral hairy leukoplakia. People with HIV who smoke are also at a greater risk of getting it.


How is oral hairy leukoplakia diagnosed?


Oral hairy leukoplakia patches are easy to identify. Healthcare providers can often diagnose it from a physical exam alone. Oral candidiasis, or thrush, can be similar in appearance. However, your healthcare provider can often remove thrush growths on the tongue. This helps your healthcare provider to tell the difference between the two conditions.


A biopsy of one of the patches can confirm the diagnosis. But, this test usually isn’t done unless the patches look unusual, or if they suspect cancer or another rare condition.


Oral hairy leukoplakia itself doesn’t usually need treatment. There are no other symptoms. But, it may mean your healthcare provider needs to take a closer look at your HIV treatment to help boost your immunity.


In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral drug. Rarely, in more severe cases, your healthcare provider may surgically remove the sore.


What are the complications of oral hairy leukoplakia?


Because oral hairy leukoplakia is usually related to an HIV infection, complications are related to HIV. They include low immunity and even death. Oral hairy leukoplakia often means that you need HIV treatment or that your healthcare provider needs to change your current treatment.


Can oral hairy leukoplakia be prevented?


Preventing oral hairy leukoplakia starts by having a healthy immune system. Stick to your prescribed HIV treatment plan and dental hygiene routine. Also, take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Practice safe sex, exercise regularly, and follow a healthy diet. Do not smoke. Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions or new symptoms.

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