Vape Tongue: E-Cigs Lead to People Losing Sense of Taste
- People using electronic cigarettes or e-cigs report they are losing their sense of taste.
- This is commonly called “vape tongue.”
- The effects appear to be temporary for now.
Electronic cigarette users are losing their sense of taste, a condition known as “vape tongue” or “vaper’s tongue” — medical professionals are sounding the alarm.
A New Side Effect of Vaping?
Although the condition is temporary and appears to dissipate when users either stop using or cut down on e-cigarette use, it is evidence of just one more negative side effect of using electronic cigarettes.
While there isn’t much published scientific information about the condition, there appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting it, as dentists and other healthcare practitioners have taken to social media to warn about it. They are urging e-cigarette users to stop or drastically cut down their usage if they have experienced this side effect.
Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford Medicine, Founder and Executive Director of the university’s Vaping Information, Solutions, and Interventions Toolkit, told Healthline that she was only familiar with the condition through social media, but that she wasn’t aware of any scientific literature on the condition.
Her position is similarly shared by Benjamin Chaffee, DDS, a Professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry. Dr. Chaffee told Healthline, “There’s not currently reliable evidence to indicate how common the condition is or the mechanisms causing it. This is another example of the many things we do not know about how vaping affects the body. It’s a reason for more research and a reason to approach these products with caution.”
What is “Vape Tongue”?
The primary symptom of “vape tongue” is a diminished sense of taste. When all sense of taste is lost, it is referred to medically as ageusia. Those experiencing loss of taste are generally unable to detect a full range of flavors; while flavors that are experienced can be bland or muted. The severity of loss of taste associated with e-cigarette use can vary in severity depending on the user and the frequency of usage.
The exact cause of “vape tongue” isn’t entirely understood. Theories include xerostomia (dry mouth) and dehydration attributed to ingredients in e-cigarette liquid (“vape juice”). Whatever the cause, it is likely chemical in nature. Like traditional cigarettes, E-cigarettes contain nicotine, but they also contain a whole range of other chemical and flavorant additives. Chemicals like propylene glycol, benzoic acid, and vegetable glycerin are common in e-cigarette liquids. Flavorants can include things like cinnamaldehyde, the chemical that gives cinnamon its unique flavor, and diacetyl, which is commonly used in microwave popcorn and is essential for giving certain foods their “buttery” flavor. As a novel form of nicotine consumption, chemicals used by e-cigarette companies can vary, especially as they offer new and different flavors of vapes.
“One can imagine that the chemicals in e-cigarettes and especially the flavorants and others, can cause issues with oral health but nothing that we know for sure,” Dr. Halpern-Felsher told Healthline.
Chemicals In E-Cigarette Liquid May Not Be Safe
Chemical and flavorant additives in e-cigarette liquid are “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration However, specifically with e-cigarettes, that designations comes with a huge asterisk: ingredients like propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin that are considered GRAS, are considered safe for ingestion, that is, eating. During the process of vaping, the liquid that contains nicotine and other chemical additives is heated to create an aerosol and inhaled.
Although advertised as “vaping,” a person using e-cigarettes/vapes is inhaling an aerosol, not a harmless water “vapor,” which is misleading.
Heating, vaping, or burning an ingredient, even one deemed safe by the FDA for ingestion, can lead to chemical changes that result in unknown chemical changes that haven’t been evaluated.
In addition to “vape tongue,” e-cigarette usage is associated with numerous other side effects, including coughing, trouble breathing, nausea, and fatigue. More serious effects include lung damage and “popcorn lung” a form of lung damage associated with the chemical flavorant diacetyl. “Oral health is also a serious risk for e-cigarette users. Studies have variously found e-cigarette use to be associated with excess oral bacteria, dry mouth, inflammation, and overall irritation. A 2020 study found that e-cigarettes dramatically altered the oral microbiome; the authors indicate that two chemicals found in e-cigarette liquid, propylene glycol and glycerol, may be the drivers of these changes in mouth bacteria.
More than 2.5 million youths reported using e-cigarettes in the United States in 2022, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2014, e-cigarettes have been the most used tobacco product among kids and teens. Often touted as a means of helping traditional cigarette smokers to quit, evidence has been limited. The American Lung Association maintains a “quit don’t switch” recommendation and states: “E-cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease. No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.”
The Bottom Line
“Vape tongue” or “vaper’s tongue” is a condition associated with e-cigarette use that causes individuals to lose their sense of taste.
The condition is temporary, but users should stop or decrease e-cigarette use to regain taste function.
E-cigarettes are known to cause a variety of other deleterious health effects including lung damage.
Written By Gigen Mammoser
Edited By Gillian Mohney
Fact Checked By Michelle T. Wyatt, MD