Medical Q&As

Geographic tongue - what is it?

Can you tell me how I can get rid of geographic tongue?

Geographic tongue is a descriptive term that refers to a map-like appearance of the tongue that results from denuded patches on the tongue’s surface. The denuded patches are due to loss of the tiny finger-like projections on the surface of the tongue, which we refer to as papillae. It can involve the top, undersurface and sides of the tongue. The affected parts of the tongue look smooth and red with an irregular outline. There are usually white marks on the tongue immediately adjoining the red patches. The map like pattern on the tongue can persist for a month or more and can change very rapidly in appearance within that time. The cause is not known but it has been suggested that it may be a form of allergic reaction. Other suggested causes include alcohol, cigarette smoke and hot or spicy foods. It has also been suggested that it could be a response to stress. There is no effective treatment for this condition but fortunately it usually resolves spontaneously in most cases. Try to avoid brushing the tongue because this may simply result in denuding other areas. If it persists unduly perhaps alcohol and cigarette consumption may need to be addressed as well as the other possible causative influences such as stress. The denuded areas often become infected with thrush in which case an antifungal agent may be needed.