Vaping has consistently made headlines this year, from devices used by children found to contain high levels of lead, nickel and chromium to the government announcing plans earlier this month to create a 'smoke-free generation'.
But aside from the more serious potential health problems (notably a 12-year-old girl recently suffering a collapsed lung after vaping), users of the electronic devices have also started to experience what is known as 'Vaper's Tongue'.
Here, a dental expert explains what the condition actually is and how it's causing vapers (including many young people) to experience a particularly unwelcome symptom.
What is Vaper's Tongue?
'Vaper's Tongue', also known as Vaper's Fatigue, is a condition that affects some individuals who use electronic cigarettes or vape devices. It refers to a loss or reduction in a person's ability to taste flavours when vaping," explains dentist Dr Rhona Eskander of Dental Phobia.
"The temporary loss or reduction in the ability to taste flavours when vaping, can occur for several reasons when using vape devices."
What causes Vaper's Tongue?
1. Olfactory fatigue
Our sense of taste is closely linked to our sense of smell. When you vape the same flavour for an extended period, the olfactory receptors in your nose (these play a key role in your sense of smell) can become accustomed to that specific aroma. As a result, you become desensitised to the flavour, and it may seem less pronounced or disappear temporarily.
2. Overexposure to certain flavours
Some e-liquid flavours, especially very strong or intense ones, can contribute to Vaper's Tongue more than others. Constant exposure to these flavours can cause taste receptors to become less sensitive to them.
Vaping can lead to dry mouth, which is a common side effect. Dry mouth can reduce your ability to taste flavours as saliva plays a crucial role in tasting and helps distribute flavour molecules to your taste buds. When your mouth is dry, you may experience reduced taste perception.
4. Individual variability
People's taste perception can vary. Some individuals are more prone to Vaper's Tongue, while others may not experience it at all, even with prolonged use of the same e-liquid.
5. Smoking History
For former smokers who switch to vaping, the transition can sometimes lead to temporary taste issues. Smoking can damage taste buds and olfactory senses, and it may take some time for these senses to recover.
Is Vaper's Tongue dangerous?
With lots of other warnings circulating, how worried should people be about this possible vaping implication? "Vaper's tongue itself is not inherently dangerous; it's more of an annoyance than a serious health risk. It's a temporary and reversible condition where vapers experience a loss or reduction in their ability to taste flavours when using electronic cigarettes or vape devices. While it can be frustrating, it typically does not pose a direct danger to one's health," explains Dr Eskander.
"However, the concern with Vaper's Tongue lies in the potential for it to mask other health issues. In some cases, persistent or severe taste issues might be indicative of underlying oral health problems or even systemic health issues. Therefore, if a person experiences ongoing taste problems while vaping or using any other tobacco or nicotine products, it's important to consult a healthcare professional or dentist to rule out more significant health concerns.”
Other side effects of vaping
Despite many concerns, vaping itself (when devices have gone through proper safety checks) is still thought to be substantially less harmful than smoking, as users are exposed to fewer toxins at lower levels. However, it not risk free, and the NHS urges young people under 18 to stay away. The government is currently trying to tackle the marketing and sale of vapes being targeted at children (despite this being illegal), as well as their widespread availability.
In terms of general side effects, Cancer Research UK states, "There is no good evidence that vaping causes cancer.
"But e-cigarettes are not risk-free. They can cause side effects such as throat and mouth irritation, headache, cough and feeling sick. These side effects tend to reduce over time with continued use. We don’t know yet what effects they might have in the long term."
Expanding on this, Dr Eskander adds, "Vaping can have several adverse oral health effects, including dry mouth (xerostomia) due to reduced saliva production, which can lead to an increased risk of cavities, gum inflammation, and mouth sores. The ingredients in e-liquids, especially nicotine, can constrict blood vessels in the gums, contributing to gum problems, and potentially slowing down the healing of oral wounds.
"While vaping is generally considered less harmful than traditional smoking, it's not without risks to oral health, and some users may experience these issues. Maintaining proper oral hygiene, staying hydrated, and considering alternatives or quitting altogether are essential steps to reduce the potential oral health impact of vaping. Regular dental check-ups can help monitor and address any emerging problems."
How can you prevent Vaper's Tongue?
"To prevent or alleviate Vaper's Tongue, vapers often switch to different e-liquid flavours, stay hydrated, and try smelling coffee beans or other strong, neutral scents to 'reset' their olfactory senses. It's usually a temporary and reversible condition, and with a few simple measures, most vapers can continue enjoying the flavours of their e-liquids," explains Dr Eskander.
However, the expert adds, "If you have persistent or severe taste issues while vaping, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare professional or dentist to rule out any underlying oral health problems."
And of course, the best way to prevent any side effects, is to not vape at all.
"E-cigarettes should only be used to help you stop smoking, or to stop you going back to tobacco. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. If you have never smoked, you shouldn’t use e-cigarettes," Cancer Research UK urges.
Read more: The health implications of vaping: Girl, 12, gets admitted to hospital with collapsed lung (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
Read more: Number of children vaping spikes 50% in a year(Independent, 5-min read)
Read more: Parents warned vapes containing spice are being sold to children in Yorkshire (The Yorkshire Post, 1-min read)
Watch: Health secretary vows to tackle marketing of vapes 'like sweets' to children