Business Insider Edition

Vaping teens are dealing with a side effect called 'vape tongue,' and doctors still don't know the long-term consequences

Julia Naftulin , Business Insider US
 Oct 29, 2019, 07:12 AM
Smoking
(Gage Walker, on Unsplash)
  • During a Colorado vaping focus group for teens, many young vapers said they had experienced vape tongue, a condition where vape juice desensitizes a person's tongue so they can't taste flavours, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Vape juice ingredients can coat the tongue so taste buds can't receive flavour signals.
  • Compared to vape-related symptoms like a chronic cough, trouble breathing, and nausea, vape tongue is a lesser-discussed side effect, perhaps because it typically resolves on its own.
  • Doctors don't know if vape tongue has long-term health consequences because the side effect has yet to be studied.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

As vape-related illnesses continue to mount, people are increasingly sharing the symptoms they've experienced from using the devices, including one called "vape tongue."

During a recent Colorado vaping focus groups for teens, many young vapers said they had experienced vape tongue, a condition where vape juice desensitizes a person's tongue so they can't taste flavours anymore, Thomas Ylioja, a tobacco-cessation expert at Denver's National Jewish Health, told Wall Street Journal.

Compared to vape-related symptoms like chronic cough, trouble breathing, and nausea, vape tongue is a lesser-discussed side effect, perhaps because it typically resolves on its own, according to Dr. Erich Voigt, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at NYU Langone Health.

Vape tongue "isn't something people come into a specialist's office to fix because it's a more mild symptom and they deal on their own," Voigt told Insider.

If someone with vape tongue abstains from vaping for a couple of weeks, their tongue regains the ability to taste.

Vape tongue can happen to both cannabis and nicotine vape users

Vape tongue hasn't been studied, so doctors can't pinpoint exactly what's causing the side effect, but Voigt said there are a few theories.

Since vape tongue can happen both in people who vape nicotine and THC, it's not one of those substances that's causing the problem.

Rather, it's likely the solvents used in various vape juices, like propylene glycol, ethylene glycol, and vegetable glycerin, are the culprits. These solvents are used to deliver the nicotine or THC particles in an aerosol form so users can then inhale the substances.

According to Voigt, when these ingredients are consumed often, they can coat the tongue so that flavourings that would normally hit the taste buds are blocked off. These chemicals can also inflame the nasal cavity, Voigt said, but "we need sense of smell to have a complex enjoyment of taste, so if the nose is congested, it brings sense of taste down."

When this happens, a person may not only stop responding to the flavour of their vape, but also the flavours of food and drink.

There's no research on the long-term risks of vape tongue

Although vape tongue is a temporary side effect that resolves on its own, it's possible that it could compromise a person's oral health if they repeatedly develop vape tongue or have the condition for an extended period of time, Voigt said.

At the moment, no research on the long-term health effects of vape tongue exist.

Research has shown, however, that vaping can lead to other long-term oral health consequences like lung inflammation and gastrointestinal problems.

A November 2016 study found that after just a few minutes of puffing on both tobacco- and menthol-flavoured vapes, oral tissue became inflamed, which can make someone more susceptible to oral diseases like gum disease or oral cancer.

Another study published in February found that vaping can change oral tissue on a molecular level, which could in turn increase cancer risk.

For these reasons, Voigt recommends vape users gradually wean off their devices and eventually swear off vapes entirely.

"My gut instinct is there will be long-term health consequences with continued use of vaping," Voigt said.

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