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Hairy Leukoplakia

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is Hairy Leukoplakia?

This medical condition is a form of leukoplakia, which is when a gray or white patch develops on your tongue, on the floor of your mouth, or on the inside of your cheek. These patches can even develop on the genital areas of females. Hairy leukoplakia is an unusual and severe form of leukoplakia and is a precancerous sore or lesion. It is also called oral hairy leukoplakia. It was first described in 1984, just a few years after the AIDS epidemic started. Hairy leukoplakia mainly happens in adult males and is not as common in adult females. It is rarely seen in children.

Hairy Leukoplakia Symptoms

There are really no symptoms that are associated with the lesion but you may see these symptoms on your tongue or side of your mouth.

  • Irregular white patches on the inside of your tongue and may occasionally appear in other places in your mouth and your tongue.
  • The irregular white patches look folded or corrugated in appearance.
  • Running along the folds there will be tiny hair-like protrusions, which you can see best when you stick out your tongue, stretched to the side.
  • The lesions cannot be dislodged or moved.
  • It may have a shaggy appearance.

Hairy Leukoplakia Causes

It is thought that hairy leukoplakia is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus which is a virus that is related to herpes. It is an oral infection. It is a very common human virus and occurs worldwide. During a person’s lifetime, almost everyone becomes infected with this virus. By the time a person in the United States, ninety-five percent of them have been infected with the virus. This is the same virus that can also cause infectious mononucleosis if the infection with this virus happens during young adulthood or adolescence.

Hairy leukoplakia is frequently associated with an immune system that has been compromised which is why is often happens in people who have moderate to severe immune system damage or HIV. Because hairy leukoplakia is caused by a virus that belongs to the herpes family it can be transferred from one human to another.


It is normally diagnosed just by examining your tongue and looking at the white patches. If it is hairy leukoplakia the white patches cannot be wiped away. It is sometimes mistaken for Candida. For a definite diagnosis they can take a biopsy and examine it under a microscope.

Hairy Leukoplakia Pictures

Images, Photos and Pictures collection of Hairy Leukoplakia…

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Usually hairy leukoplakia does not need any type of treatment because the lesion is benign, or non-cancerous. Treatment may be needed if it is interfering with eating or drink, affects your voice, or causes pain. If you do need treatment your physician will prescribe Aciclovir, which is the standard anti-herpes medication. The physician may also prescribe Ganciclovir, which is a similar anti-CMV medication. If your physician starts you on Aciclovir, it will be a high dose, which is three grams every day and on this dosage the condition will usually resolve quickly. The only drawback is when you stop the antiviral treatment, there is a chance that the lesions can reappear. There are also reports that it will respond also to retinoic acid gels and podophyllin, which is an anti-wart treatment medication. Another option would be to have the lesions removed surgically.

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