Namibia: Geographic Tongue Syndrome Unveiled

ISABELLA Kangootui started noticing early on that her daughter could not eat certain types of food such as peanuts, bananas, pineapples and some sweets.

She did not know that her daughter had been born with what is medically termed as "Geographic tongue syndrome".

In the medical field, this syndrome makes the tongue appear like a map, with reddish spots within white borders on the upper layer of the tongue.

Although it is harmless and does not need treatment, the condition affects very few people across the world, and can cause embarrassment as it would be difficult to reassure people that there is nothing wrong with the affected person.

The Mayo Clinic medical website describes the condition as one where the tongue becomes inflamed due to the consumption of acidic or spicy food.

"Although geographic tongue may look alarming, it doesn't cause health problems, and isn't associated with an infection or cancer. Geographic tongue can sometimes cause tongue discomfort and increased sensitivity to certain substances, such as spices, salt and even sweets," reads the website.

The website added that there are no symptoms for this condition, and it comes for a few years and disappears, only to return later on.

According to the website, people are at risk of developing a geographic tongue if they have a family history of the condition, or if they have a fissured tongue, which is a tongue that has deep cuts or grooves on the sides or surface.

Kangootui said she never thought her child had a disability just because of her different tongue, but she started monitoring what to buy, and what not to feed her.

"To me, it is like an allergy as she cannot eat spicy food, raw cabbage, pineapples, bananas or certain sweets. I am not sure how other people saw it, but to me, she is just normal," said the 49-year-old.

The mother said she has seen other people with similar conditions as well, and did not need to seek medical attention for her daughter until she reacted severely to eating peanuts once.

Kangootui's daughter Mickey said yesterday that she always felt unique that she has geographic tongue syndrome.

"I felt special. It is not a weird condition at all. The only problem is that I cannot eat certain foods, fruits and vegetables as they are either sour, have a chilly taste or are acidic," Mickey said.

She said, most people hardly notice that she has the condition unless they stand close to her, or when she chooses to show them.

"They would then ask me what happened, and if I am alright. I tell them that I am just fine, and that I was born like that," she added.

Kangootui said she is the only one in her family with the condition, while encouraging those out there who feel weird that the condition is normal, and not to be feared.

"I also have three friends with it, but they react differently to it as regards to what they can and cannot eat. I think it is a special thing to have, and it is not contagious," Mickey said. Windhoek-based doctor Laura Beukes from Drs P. Nel, Klazen and Associates General Practitioners yesterday said there are several factors that have been proposed to be the cause of a geographic tongue syndrome.

Confirming that the syndrome is not contagious and cannot cause cancer, Beukes said possible causes include emotional stress, allergies, habits and other psychological factors.

"One experiences a discomfort and a burning sensation, topical anaethetics can be used.

(Topical anaesthetics can be used to numb the tongue if it burns to help control discomfort," said Beukes.

She said, psoriasis, a skin-like disease, has been linked to geographic tongue and thus the syndrome has been considered as an oral version of Psoriasis.

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