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. As many as 3 out of 4 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 living with HIV/AIDS are especially likely to develop hairy leukoplakia. Although the use of anti-retroviral drugs has reduced the number of cases, hairy leukoplakia still affects as many as 25 percent 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 anti-retroviral therapy is failing.
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