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What Is Geographic Tongue? Is It Related To COVID? Read About The Causes And Symptoms

Geographic tongue is an inflammatory condition in which your tongue's surface becomes inflamed. Tongues are normally covered with tiny, pinkish-white bumps (papillae) and short, thin, hair-like projections. However, geographic tongue is characterized by patches on the tongue's surface that lack papillae and appear smooth, red 'islands,' often with slightly raised borders [1].

What Causes Geographic Tongue?

The cause of geographic tongue is unknown, and there is no way to prevent it. There may be a connection between geographic tongue and psoriasis and geographic tongue and lichen planus. However, more research is needed to determine whether these two conditions are connected [2].

What Are The Symptoms Of Geographic Tongue?

Even though many people do not experience any symptoms, the most recognizable characteristic of geographic tongue is the appearance of the pattern on the tongue. These uneven red patches are the most obvious symptoms of geographic tongue. Usually, they are located on your tongue, but they may also appear on your gums, on your cheeks, on the roof of your mouth, or beneath your tongue [3].

The patches may have the following characteristics:

  • Light or white borders
  • Vary in size, shape, and colour
  • Begin in one area and then move to another
  • Not have the small bumps (papillae) that normally cover the tongue

One in ten individuals with geographic tongue suffers from mild discomfort, burning, or pain. Foods that are hot, spicy, or acidic, cigarette smoke, and toothpaste are often responsible for this.

What Are The Risk Factors for Geographic Tongue?

Research on factors that may increase one's risk of geographic tongue has yielded mixed results. However, some of the factors that are likely to be associated with an increased risk include the following [4]:

  • Genetics: There is a possibility that inherited genes may increase the risk of geographic tongue in some people.
  • Fissured tongue: Many individuals with geographic tongue also suffer from a fissured tongue, which is characterized by deep grooves (fissures) on the surface of the tongue.

What Are The Complications Of Geographic Tongue?

Geographic tongue is considered a benign condition. Your health is not at risk, nor does it cause long-term complications or increase your risk of major health problems.

It is, however, common to feel anxious about the condition for the following reasons [5]:

  • You may find the appearance of the tongue embarrassing, depending on how visible the lesions are
  • You may find it difficult to be reassured there is nothing seriously wrong

How Is Geographic Tongue Diagnosed?

A physician or dentist usually will be able to diagnose geographic tongue based on an examination of your tongue and your signs and symptoms.

This examination might include the following [6]:

  • Examining your tongue with a lighted instrument
  • Moving your tongue in different directions
  • Check your tongue for tenderness or unusual changes to its texture or consistency by gently touching it
  • Look for signs of infection, such as fever or swollen lymph nodes in the neck

How Is Geographic Tongue Treated?

Typically, geographic tongue does not require any medical intervention. Geographic tongue can occasionally cause discomfort to the tongue; however, it is otherwise a harmless condition [7].

To manage discomfort or sensitivity, your doctor may prescribe medications such as:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Mouth rinses with anaesthetic
  • Corticosteroids
  • Zinc supplements
  • Vitamin B supplementation, in some cases

Since these treatments have not been studied rigorously, their effectiveness is unknown. Furthermore, because the condition resolves independently and has an unpredictable course, it may not be possible to determine whether the symptomatic treatment is effective.

Can Geographic Tongue Be Prevented?

By avoiding or limiting substances that irritate sensitive oral tissues, such as spicy or acidic foods and beverages and alcohol and tobacco, you can reduce the discomfort associated with geographic tongue.

Geographic Tongue and COVID-19

Research on COVID tongue is at present limited. However, it is known that viral infections can sometimes cause a condition known as geographic tongue.

You may experience smooth red patches on your tongue with white borders, which may last for months or even years. Generally, geographic tongue does not cause pain or any other health concerns; however, flare-ups can make it difficult to consume spicy foods [8].

Currently, it is unclear whether COVID tongue is related to geographic tongue or whether COVID-19 can cause geographic tongue. However, with more people recovering from COVID-19 and as more data becomes available, doctors will better understand COVID tongue and any possible long-term effects.

Please consult your physician if you have COVID-19 and are experiencing any mouth or tongue health issues.

Story first published: Friday, May 20, 2022, 10:10 [IST]
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