Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Memo to John Derbyshire re: bumpy tongue

For those not interested in bumpy tongues, please move right on to the rest of the blog. The rest of you, read on.

National Review's John Derbyshire asks about bumpy tongue:
My kids keep discovering diseases hitherto unknown to medical science. My 9-yr-old son is complaining about "bumpy tongue." Symptoms? "My tongue feels all bumpy." Let's take a look. Hmm, looks like a normal tongue. "No, it's got bumps on it. I can feel them."

Anyone know anything about bumpy tongue?

Well, Derb, you've come to the right place.

First a little background. I have no medical training and hence my advice on any medical topic should be appropriately discounted. I'm also the guy who once set your cribbage posts to bad Seussian poetry, which I suppose means my advice on any topic should be quite heavily discounted.

That said, I have uncovered various possible causes of your son's bumpy tongue, which I list in (roughly) ascending order of likelihood.

  1. Your son is an armadillo. (This one seems unlikely unless you and your wife are also armadillos.)
  2. Your son is a large member of the cat family, in which case "the hard bumpy tongue combs fur clean, cleans off blood after feeding, and removes ticks, fleas and other parasites." (Again, this seems unlikely--unless, of course, you've noticed considerable blood on your son's fur after feeding time.)
  3. Your son has a rare genetic disorder. (While more likely than numbers one and two above, this too is unlikely unless your kid also has a slipped capital femoral epiphysis which you might recognize by ongoing pain in the hip or knee and below-normal range of motion).
  4. Your child has strep throat or scarlet fever. (This one seems more likely if your son also has a sore throat and fever.)
  5. Your son has some other sort of tongue inflammation.
  6. Your son is feeling normal papillae on his tongue:
    If you look at the surface of your tongue, you will notice many tiny bumps scattered in among the velvet along the edges of the dorsal surface. The bumps are another type of papilla called "fungiform papillae" (named in honor of their mushroom-like shape). These are small, slightly raised and slightly redder than the surrounding "velvet" filliform covered surface that surrounds them. Foliate papillae are a third type located on both sides of the tongue in a small area just above (dorsal to) the lingual tonsils on the lateral surface of the tongue. The fungiform and foliate papillae are associated with taste buds.

    Update: In response to reader sentiment I have removed a picture of the tongue. Curious readers can still find it here.
And thus concludes my bumpy tongue research.

Update: Related articles: