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Oral Hairy Leukoplakia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

oral hairy keukoplakia

What is oral hairy leukoplakia?

A weakened immune system makes you susceptible to different infections. One of these infections is oral hairy leukoplakia. It is a condition that affects the tongue’s appearance and other parts of the mouth. It appears as white patches, which is why others mistake it for oral thrush.

What causes this condition? EBV or Epstein-Barr virus triggers this condition. As this infection’s name suggests, the patches look hairy. It usually appears on the side of the tongue. This infection resembles ridges that can also be fuzzy and corrugated.


The main symptom of oral hairy leukoplakia is the development of white patches, especially on the edge of the tongue. Other symptoms of this condition are as follows:

  • Fold patches on the tongue
  • White or grayish patches
  • The appearance of hairy-like patches
  • Red lesions (may advance to cancer)
  • Mouth sores (although unusual)
  • Pain while swallowing



A physical exam is enough to diagnose oral hairy leukoplakia. Medical professionals can easily recognize its appearance. Although it can look similar to oral thrush, a tongue depressor cannot remove leukoplakia. This is the main difference between both conditions.

Your healthcare professional is likely to go for a biopsy if needed. However, it is only necessary if the symptoms of oral hairy leukoplakia seem unusual and can likely advance to cancer.

Who can be diagnosed with this condition?

This condition is common in individuals with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Usually, it means that HIV has worsened. It also warns that your immune system is becoming impaired, which causes HIV to advance to AIDS. It also contributes to the development of other opportunistic infections.

Complications associated with leukoplakia

One of the negative side effects of leukoplakia is that it increases your risk of oral cancer. The development of patches can trigger a more advanced infection if proper treatment is not done. While this condition does not damage the mouth tissues, leukoplakia is dangerous if there is an underlying problem with the immune system.

Treatment and prevention

Before receiving the best therapy, your healthcare professional will examine some factors. These are as follows:

  • Your age
  • Your medical history
  • The intensity of your condition
  • How your body interacts with the treatment

Treatment is not always necessary after an oral hairy leukoplakia diagnosis. However, your healthcare professional will prescribe you antiviral drugs if the condition is already associated with HIV. The treatment will boost your immune system to fight the infection.

There are a lot of ways to prevent oral hairy leukoplakia. One of the best approaches is to strengthen your immune system. Exercising regularly can help. Additionally, practicing oral hygiene helps big time in preventing any oral infections. Avoid smoking and abstain from drinking too much alcohol. Talk with your healthcare professional about other things you need to follow to avoid this infection.

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