Vaping is a very different experience to smoking, and new vapers will be surprised to notice some mild side-effects that they might not have experienced when they smoked. Although it is too early to know the long-term side effects of vaping, researchers know that the short-term effects are not usually serious, and they will resolve themselves if you take a short break from vaping.
One such short-term side effect of vaping is the phenomenon known as vaper’s tongue, where your sense of taste is altered or lost temporarily after vaping. In this article, we’ll discuss what vaper’s tongue is, why people get it, and the suggested remedies to help it clear more quickly.
What is Vaper’s Tongue?
Vaper’s tongue is an interesting phenomenon where a vaper loses their sense of taste – before, after or during a vaping session. It can also manifest as changes in taste preferences and tongue numbness or soreness. Luckily, vaper’s tongue is not serious or permanent, and should resolve itself in a matter of time.
Vaper’s tongue is also known as vaper’s fatigue, as it can occur when you vape too much. It is a temporary condition that can be caused by a variety of issues, all of which lead you to losing or altering your sense of taste.
Although vaper’s tongue is widely reported amongst vapers, it is important to remember that if your symptoms persist after you have stopped vaping, you might have a more serious underlying issue, like a vitamin deficiency.
How Taste Works
To understand why you might get vaper’s tongue, it’s important to understand how taste works. Taste is one of your five senses – a chemical process designed to protect us from toxic substances, and reward us when we ingest calorific or nutritious foods. Your tongue is covered in thousands of tiny taste receptors known as taste buds. How many taste buds you have is almost entirely dependent on your genetics. Some people, known as supertasters, have exceptionally high numbers of taste buds, leaving them very sensitive to different flavors.
A taste bud on your tongue. Taste buds are actually small depressions on the tongue’s surface
Chemicals that can connect to your taste receptors will have a taste. These flavor molecules will excite your taste buds, stimulating them in a way unique to that compound, with several flavors building up the overall taste of a type of food, or e-juice for example.
When you taste, this orchestra of activity travels from your tongue to your brain, generating your perception of flavors and evoking an emotional response. If you enjoy the flavor, reward pathways are activated in your brain, giving you a pleasant experience.
When people experience a flavor they enjoy, it can even increase the production of saliva, making a smell or taste truly mouthwatering. Likewise, a bad taste or odor can leave people feeling sick or even vomiting .
How Smell Works
Smell works in a very similar way to taste. The two senses are more related than experts initially thought; your sense of taste is highly dependent on your sense of smell. Vaporised flavor molecules, coming from food or other substances, arrive in your nose when you inhale air. These tiny flavor molecules stimulate specialised receptor cells high inside your nose, called olfactory receptor neurons. Much like taste, the complex cocktail of flavor ‘signals’ that make up an individual smell stimulate these receptors, sending messages directly to your brain and generating the sensation of smell. If a molecule does not fit an odor receptor, it will not have a smell .
How you taste is not only dependent on your taste buds. Your sense of smell has a huge effect on your sense of taste – if you have a blocked nose, you will often notice your taste is dramatically reduced. It is the complex mix of smell and taste that generates our unique experience of flavor.
Psychology of Taste and Smell
Psychology has a huge effect on your sense of taste too. Taste receptors in your mouth and nose provide the complex sensory input, but it’s how your brain processes this information that is responsible for your personal sense of flavor. This is why we all like different flavors.
The food industry has ‘hacked’ into the reward system we activate when we experience certain flavors. By discovering, isolating, and designing chemicals that are responsible for flavors we find highly enjoyable, we are now able to enhance bland foods to produce a better flavor. We add salt, sugar, or even specific chemicals that mimic a food’s flavor. Using flavorings to enhance a bland food tricks our brains into thinking we are consuming or experiencing a flavor of value, sending positive signals across our brains and increasing the overall pleasure of the taste experience.
Causes of Vaper’s Tongue
The vaping industry has also taken advantage using of food-grade flavorings to enhance user experience and make vaping highly enjoyable. Vapers can experience intense flavors, increasing pleasure sensations when you vape and enhancing the overall experience. Let’s have a look at why this and other issues can lead to vaper’s tongue.
If you are using e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, there’s a chance you will be smoking cigarettes at the same time as you vape. It’s well known that smoking can damage your sense of smell and taste, and that this is not permanent. You might find that as you stop smoking, your sense of flavor dramatically improves, and you may notice different aspects, and generally be more sensitive to flavors. This could lead to overstimulation of your tastebuds and possibly, temporary loss of your sense of taste, resulting in the symptoms of vaper’s tongue.
Vaping same flavor for too long
The use of strong or highly concentrated flavorings can lead to general loss of taste after you vape. Simply put, your taste buds can be overstimulated after experiencing a strong flavor over and over for a long time. Our sensory network of taste and smell has not evolved to deal with receiving strong and consistent flavours so frequently. Overstimulation of your taste buds may result in temporary loss of taste.
Damaged taste buds
Several things can damage your taste buds and lead to loss of taste. These can include burning your tongue on hot foods or drinks, smoking, alcohol, extremely sour or spicy food, and some medications. Your taste buds also become weaker as you grow older. Your taste buds will heal themselves after damage, but this can take 1-2 weeks, so expect to wait a little while before you can experience your full sense of taste again.
If you vape, you can become dehydrated more quickly than others. Dehydration can also lead to loss of taste, but this will come hand in hand with other symptoms, such as dry mouth, headaches and dark urine.
- Drinking more water (and electrolytes, if necessary) will help you resolve this very quickly.
Dry mouth is one mild side-effect of vaping. Your taste buds need to be wet to increase their contact with flavor molecules, so having a dry mouth will reduce your ability to perceive flavors. Dryness of mucous membranes (e.g. your eyes and mouth) is more common the older you get. Again, staying hydrated can help with this symptom.
Old e-liquids can pick up a strange, peppery flavor as they go off. This can often be the reason why people do not enjoy a flavor that used to be their favorite. Check the sell-by date on your e-liquid, and consider buying a new bottle after you’ve taken a break from vaping.
Users online report dirty atomisers can lead to vaper’s tongue. It might be worth cleaning your atomiser, or replacing it if you are concerned.
Blocked nose or illness
If your nose is blocked from a cold, this will hugely affect your sense of taste and flavor. Other illnesses that could be masquerading as vaper’s tongue could include Vitamin B12 or zinc deficiency. Unless your symptoms persist, there’s no reason to worry about this, as short term loss of taste is commonly reported amongst vapers.
Some medicines will also affect your sense of taste, particularly some antidepressants, many cancer therapies and thyroid drugs. If you are taking medication, check the label for common side effects to see whether it might be affecting your sense of taste.
Symptoms of Vaper’s Tongue
Common symptoms of vaper’s tongue include:
- Not enjoying a flavor you used to love
- Losing your sense of taste altogether
- Numb and sore tongue
It’s important to remember these symptoms are very common and will happen to all vapers at some point. Symptoms should not be the cause of worry as they generally very quickly clear up by themselves. If the issue persists, it might be time to contact your doctor or healthcare provider to ensure there’s not an underlying issue.
Treatment of Vaper’s Tongue
Most often, vaper’s tongue is caused when you’ve overstimulated your tongue and it becomes dulled and insensitive to stimulation by a certain flavor, resulting in loss or altered taste. There are lots of things you can do to help tired taste buds regain their sense of taste, and clear up your vaper’s tongue:
Just like when you cannot identify the smell of your own home when you walk in, but others living elsewhere can very clearly, over time, your brain dulls flavors it deems consistent and/or safe. As your overall experience of a flavor or smell dulls, you may start to find them quite unpleasant and no longer satisfying. This can lead to finding flavors you used to love no longer enjoyable. If you vape the same flavor over and over, it might be time to give your mouth a rest and change flavor for a few weeks.
You should find that after only a short time away from your favorite, your sense of flavor will have fully returned.
Drink more water
Drinking more water will help keep you hydrated, and clear your palette of old flavors. Likewise, gently brushing your tongue as your brush your teeth will help clear away and build up that is blocking access to your taste buds.
Stop smoking or dual vaping
If you can quit smoking for even just a few weeks, you might find that smoking was the cause of your vaper’s tongue, and your sense of taste returns.
Vape unflavored e-juices
Just like changing flavor, vaping unflavored e-liquids for a few weeks will allow your sense of taste to recover as you give it a well-deserved rest and detox from vape flavorings. This could help cleanse your palette and return your sense of taste.
The sensory cells that make up your taste buds are renewed roughly every week. This means that if you can take a complete break from vaping for more than a week, the chances are your symptoms will resolve as your taste buds gradually reset themselves.
Coffee and Lemon Juice
Smelling or consuming strong flavors like lemon juice or coffee can help ‘reset’ your taste buds and cleanse your palette. Smelling coffee to reset the palette is a technique used in wine tasting, and some vapers online report that this was all that was required to resolve their vaper’s tongue.
Vaper’s tongue can seem shocking when you first experience it, particularly if you were not expecting it to happen. But, symptoms will often resolve themselves very quickly without any other intervention. Just like eating too much of one thing, you can quickly go off a particular flavor when you vape, as your taste buds become over stimulated or dulled to that particular flavor. After a short break from this flavor, you can expect your sense of taste to be fully restored, and your vaping experience to be just as enjoyable as before.
Vaper’s tongue can be caused by a variety of things. In this article, we’ve discussed the causes, reasons, and treatments for your vaper’s tongue. Your perception of flavor and what you enjoy is complex, as dependent on psychological influences as it is on your tongue and nose. If your sense of taste does not return after taking a short break from vaping, it’s best to consult your doctor or healthcare provider as you might have an underlying health issue.
The take home ways to help clear your vaper’s tongue that we’ve discussed in this article are:
- Keep hydrated
- Swap out your current flavor e-juice for another one
- Vape unflavored e-liquids for a short period
- Take a break from vaping altogether
- Quit smoking (if you haven’t already)
- Brush your tongue or use a tongue scraper in your oral hygiene routine
- Be patient – it can take 1-2 weeks for your mouth to fully recover taste
1. Informed Health Online [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How does our sense of taste work? 2011 Dec 20 [Updated 2016 Aug 17]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279408/