by guest blogger Kara
My experiences with geographic tongue (GT) started about ten years ago. GT is an unpleasant condition where patches of papillae are missing from the surface of the tongue and appear as smooth, red areas with slightly raised borders. The patterns of the lesions can change daily or hourly. It’s considered benign, but it can be painful, especially when eating acidic or abrasive foods, and is very unattractive. Because my GT makes me feel like my mouth is dirty all the time and that I have bad breath, I generally open my mouth less, am always covering my mouth or restricting myself when I laugh, and feel embarrassed to kiss my husband.
There seems to be no definitive understanding of what causes GT. When I ask doctors about it they don’t seem to take it seriously, so I’ve been doing research on my own. I’ve gathered bits and pieces of information from the internet and conversations with others and from monitoring my own condition. I have three theories as to the cause: 1) allergies, 2) vitamin B12 and/or zinc deficiency, or 3) post-nasal drip in general, either allergy related or caused by colds.
I developed GT in my early 30s, around the time I started developing my first allergies. We were living in an apartment in New York City that was situated right next to a garbage chute and had a bad roach problem. My husband was able to fill a small snack-bag with the roaches he had sprayed and killed. (He brought the bag down to the super, demanding they bring in an exterminator). Interestingly, my youngest daughter, who was about two, developed GT at the same exact time that I did. She also had dry patches of skin behind her knees and the inside of her elbows. I vaguely recall her doctor saying it was a form of eczema and that it was allergy related, but I can’t recall for sure. I once read somewhere that GT is similar to eczema in the way it manifests itself in changing patterns.
The coincidental timing of my GT and allergy onset and that of my daughter’s led me to believe that GT is an allergy symptom -– specifically, allergies which cause sinus congestion and post-nasal drip. I became further convinced of this when I came down with a bad sinus infection and my doctor prescribed antibiotics and Zyrtec. After taking these medications for a couple of days, I felt complete relief from my GT symptoms for the first time.
As the years progressed, however, my allergies worsened, and the Zyrtec did not seem to have the same effect. I eventually developed allergy-induced asthma and went to an allergist who told me that I have allergies to dust, roaches, cats and mold. I started going to her on a weekly basis and have been going to her for the past three years or so. My asthma is now under control, and I generally suffer less from my allergies. The geographic tongue improved noticeably with the allergy treatments, but did not resolve completely.
Because another woman I know with GT is also a vegetarian like me, I started wondering if the cause could be a vitamin B12 and/or zinc deficiency, developed as a result of my vegetarianism. My thinking was that the deficiencies were causing an imbalance in my immune system, but I’m not sure. I take B12 regularly now, but I don’t see any clear improvement. My next experiment will be to try taking zinc lozenges in addition to the B12, to test whether zinc might play a part in this.
When I get a sinus infection or regular cold that results in post-nasal drip, the GT comes back with a vengeance. This makes me wonder if it’s related not to allergies but to sinus issues in general. I don’t know. Do bacteria drip down my throat from my sinuses and trigger the GT?
My daughter’s GT seems to have gone almost completely away. Her tongue is as smooth and healthy as a baby’s, which I am thrilled about. She still does have occasional flare-ups of eczema, but I haven’t been taking note of whether her GT comes back during these times or not.
NOTE REGARDING THE COMMENTS:
Kara is the post author, but is no longer able to respond to comments herself. I (Marjorie) have been responding in her stead. I am NOT the post author. Apologies for the confusion.