Man's tongue goes 'glossy' as rare blood condition makes tastebuds disappear

18 October 2019, 11:38

The man's tongue was missing all of its "papillae"
The man's tongue was missing all of its "papillae". Picture: The New England Journal of Medicine

By Maddie Goodfellow

The mystery of why a man's tongue went completely smooth and "glossy" has been solved by doctors.

The 64-year-old patient sought medical help after his tongue became red and painful and had a burning sensation around his lips for six months.

During an exam, doctors realised his tongue was missing papillae, the bumps which contain tastebuds.

Blood tests revealed he had a condition known as pernicious anaemia, where a deficiency in the vitamin B12 causes low levels of red blood cells.

The autoimmune condition affects less than 0.1 per cent of people, according to the NHS.

It causes the body's immune system to attack cells in the stomach which absorb B12.

His anaemia in turn had caused atrophic glossitis, or inflammation of the tongue that leads to changes in colour and texture, including the loss of papillae.

Doctors from the National University of Singapore shared photos of the unusual condition in the New England Journal of Medicine to raise awareness of the symptom.

The condition was easily treatable with shots of vitamin B12, and within one month, his tongue was back to normal.

He will now have to have B12 injections once a month to keep the condition under control.