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Geographic tongue

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At the outset we tell you that geographic tongue is totally harmless and is not a disease. As the name suggests, it is characterized by appearance of “island or map like” patches all over the tongue as the papillae structures (the tiny finger like projections over the tongue) are absent.

Geographic tongue has many other names which are benign migratory glossitis, wandering rash of the tongue, erythema migrans lingualis, etc.

Symptoms of geographic tongue

The patches that occur on the tongue have typical characteristic. They are smooth but irregular which can change their location over the tongue. Due to this migratory property, they also called “migrans”.

The map or island like patches might have a white border and get sore lesions over them which differ in shape, size and color from one individual to another. Furthermore, these lesions tend to pain which burning sensation in some people.

The symptoms can last for a few months to several years. They usually disappear spontaneously but are most likely to reappear in the future.

Causes of geographic tongue

The reason behind loss of tongue papillae is not yet known. Doctors have observed that the condition occurs in the family and hence specific genes are responsible. It can also show up merely from irritation of the tongue due to smoking or eating hot and spicy foods.

Anyone can get geographic tongue. Nonetheless, people suffering from the following health conditions might be at risk of having geographic tongue:

Geographic tongue is not an infection and doctors believe that it doesn’t get transmitted via kissing, sharing food or any other means of physical contact with tongue.

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When to see a doctor?

Development of patches suddenly over the tongue certainly renders an unsightly appearance and one might find it embarrassing. Although it’s not harmful and benign, we suggest you to a doctor (dentist or ENT specialist) if the symptoms do not go away within 10-15 days.

Diagnosis of geographic tongue

Diagnosis of geographic tongue involves physical examination of the tongue. Your doctor will check the symptoms and check your tongue with a lighted instrument to get clarity of the lesions.

The tongue with be felt for soreness, pain and tenderness. Let your doctor know if you have sore throat and swollen glands.

You also must present your medical record to your doctor.  

Treatment of geographic tongue

Your doctor might not give you treatment if there’s no pain or soreness. If the lesions are painful then the common choice of treatment are OTC pain killers, anti-inflammatory pills or corticosteroid ointments.

You also need to rinse your tongue with anesthetic or anti histamine mouth rinses as prescribed by your doctor. Additionally, you might also need to take zinc tablets.

However, these medicines are only prescribed to manage the discomfort and have no effect on the “map-like” patches on your tongue. They disappear on their own.

The treatment would be directed towards healing the underlying health condition you are suffering from.

What you should do at home

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  • Opt for toothpaste for sensitive teeth than those with special attributes or with flavors
  • If your tongue has become sensitive and swollen then avoid sipping hot beverages or eating very hot and spicy foods
  • Stay away from irritants like- citrus fruits, chips and pickles with preservatives, salted fries and nuts, dried foods, etc.
  • Smoking and tobacco products worsen the symptoms; therefore cut them off.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: June 08, 2015