We’ve all studied Geography in school but what is the ‘geographic tongue’?

So, what is that funny shape?

A harmless condition, geographic tongue, causes the loss of some of the tiny pinkish-white bumps that cover the tongue’s surface.

It’s called so because this condition causes lesions on the tongue that are shaped like an island; it appears as though your tongue has an appearance like a map. The lesions look uneven, ragged and at times have white coloured edges or borders and they develop on either side of the tongue or even on the upper surface.

It is not an indication of any medical issue which is serious. The spots indicate an inflammation that affects the surface of the tongue.     

A tongue that is healthy has papillae - minuscule, extensions like a finger which stickup and assist in eating, swallowing and tasting. Those with geographic tongue, the papillae disappear and leave behind bald, red and smooth patches on the tongue.   

Causes

There is still no clear understanding as to what causes this loss of papillae, though, there is an assumption that the condition is perhaps genetic, also possibly linked to allergies, the use of oral contraceptives, stress, diabetes and immune system hypersensitivities. An immune-related skin condition, psoriasis, is often seen is those patients who have geographic tongue.    

Symptoms

This condition doesn’t necessarily display any symptoms. At times, patients will only know they have this condition after they are diagnosed.

The symptoms include:

  • Island-shaped, irregular red lesions which appear smooth but are also sensitive at times
  • The lesions have light or white coloured borders round the edges
  • Patches on the tongue that vary in shape and size
  • Patches that drift from one spot to one more portion in a span of few days or even weeks
  • Patches may appear and disappear swiftly
  • Sensitive to elements like toothpaste, sweets, mouthwash, cigarette smoke, acidic foods, etc.
  • Burning sensation or mild discomfort inside the mouth or on the tongue
  • Fissured tongue

Should I Worry?

Other than the appearance, for the most part, this condition doesn’t present too much of a concern for those who have it.  Also, it isn’t contagious. The only thing which can cause discomfort occasionally is typically brought on by few foods like those which are acidic, spicy, etc.

When it’s time to go to the doctor

Sometimes, geographic tongue can be uncomfortable, however; it’s doesn’t signal something more serious. You can make an appointment to see your doctor when you see tell-tale signs of the problem. But if you experience more serious symptoms then go to the doctor immediately – this may not necessarily be geographic tongue. 

How long does the condition last?

The symptoms of this condition can crop up for a hardly a couple of days and then vanish for a number of months. Similarly, the appearance of a map can be seen for few months after which it clears out for years. There is no clear understanding as to why these episodes are experienced by some for a longer duration and others for a shorter.

Keep in mind…

The one thing to remember is that this condition is not serious and often goes away by itself. There might be concern for the child and for you as a parent, in such a case, visit the doctor to calm your nerves. A visit to the doctor, apart from ruling out underlying issues can also aid in further assurances.  

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Last updated on 30 July, 2018.

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