CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
The cause of leukoplakia depends on whether you have the standard or hairy variety.
Although the cause of leukoplakia is unknown, tobacco use, including smoking and chewing, appears to be responsible for most cases. Often, regular users of smokeless tobacco products eventually develop leukoplakia where they hold the tobacco against their cheeks. Long-term alcohol use and other chronic irritants also may contribute to leukoplakia.
Hairy leukoplakia, sometimes called oral hairy leukoplakia, results from infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Once you've been infected with EBV, the virus remains in your body for life. Normally, the virus is dormant, but if your immune system is weakened, either from disease or certain medications, the virus can become reactivated, leading to conditions such as hairy leukoplakia.
People with HIV/AIDS are especially likely to develop hairy leukoplakia. Although the use of antiretroviral drugs has reduced the number of cases, hairy leukoplakia still affects a number of HIV-positive people and it may be one of the first signs of HIV infection. The appearance of oral hairy leukoplakia may also be an indication that antiretroviral therapy is failing.
- Goldstein BG, et al. Oral lesions. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 1, 2013.
- Detecting oral cancer: A guide for health care professionals. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/OralCancer/DetectingOralCancer.htm. Accessed May 1, 2013.
- Flint PW, et al. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05283-2..X0001-8--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05283-2&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed May 2, 2013.
- Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-7234-3541-9..X0001-6--TOP&isbn=978-0-7234-3541-9&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed May 2, 2013.
- Reamy BV, et al. Common tongue conditions in primary care. American Family Physician. 2010;81:627.
- Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=740. Accessed May 6, 2013.
- Papadakis MA, et al. Quick Medical Diagnosis & Treatment. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=513. Accessed May 6, 2013.
- Sullivan JL. Clinical manifestations and treatment of Epstein-Barr virus infection. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Usatine RP, et al. The Color Atlas of Family Medicine. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=678. Accessed May 7, 2013.
- Sheridan PJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 23, 2013.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 26, 2013.