CHECK-UP: When hot coffee burns your tongue

September 10, 2018

Dear Readers,

Marcella burnt her tongue while drinking very hot coffee, travelling in a vehicle, when the car went in a pothole recently. Since then, she says she is not tasting either food or drinks that she puts in her mouth, and her tongue continues to feel sore. She is avoiding hot foods and drinks and sucking a lot of ice cubes, but the problem persists. Marcella asks Check Up to share some information on how to overcome this problem, which is very annoying.

Marcella has had a heat burn to her tongue. This is just one of several causes of decreased taste, soreness and tongue-burning sensation. Some other conditions which can cause decreased taste are:

- Allergic reactions which can involve the tongue and include sneezing, runny noses and hives.

- Medication side effects

- Acute /Chronic sinusitis

- Nasal polyps

- Anaemia with iron or vitamin B12 deficiency

- Oral sores, tongue sores/ulcers

- Thermal burn (as per Marcella)

- Spicy pepper burn/Other spicy foods.

Resolving the burning sensation and/or lack of taste will, in part, involve identifying the cause and treating it - either by preventing an allergic reaction by identifying the allergen (e.g., drug), treating anaemia, excising or using appropriate nasal medication to remove nasal polyps, avoiding spicy foods as a further trigger, treating sinusitis, etc.

Now for the burn. Standard first aid treatment for burns will also help a tongue burn, whether it's caused by hot pepper or thermally hot food (when the heat burn is mild to moderate) and there are several natural remedies and over-the-counter pain medications which can assist. Some immediate actions which can be taken are:

- Cool down the mouth with cold water, ice cubes, icicles, yoghurt or honey. Honey is naturally soothing.

- Breathe through your mouth after a burn. The cool air rushing over the tongue helps to lessen the burning feeling.

- Sprinkle white sugar on the burnt tongue and let it dissolve. This cools the pain, and sugar absorbs the spice.

- Eat bread slowly, as this also absorbs the spice from the tongue and numbs the heat burn,

- Rinse with salt water.

- Have a cold drink.

- Drink milk. The protein in milk helps dislodge the capsaicin in pepper which causes the burning sensation.

- Suck on a menthol cough drop or chew menthol chewing gum. This acts as a local anaesthetic.

- Open a vitamin E capsule over the burnt tongue and massage the tongue. This will soothe the burn plus speed up the healing process and help with tissue regeneration. Do this every day for as long as necessary.

- Avoid eating or drinking anything acidic, salty or spicy for several days to weeks.

- Peel and cut small squares of aloe vera plant (cut off the sharp edges) and freeze them, then suck the frozen squares of aloe at intervals throughout the day. Aloe is well known for soothing and healing burns. Be advised that it doesn't taste wonderful, but it'll help!

- Take over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen

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