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Can You Swallow Your Own Tongue? What You Need to Know About Seizures

Perhaps you’ve heard stories about or even witnessed a person having an epileptic seizure who nearly swallowed their own tongue. This can be a frightening experience and you may want to learn the best way to help someone in need.

A woman with her mouth opened

How do you swallow your tongue? 

Do you know any friends or loved ones living with epilepsy? Epileptic seizures are relatively common; according to statistics, roughly 1 out of every 10 people will undergo some type of seizure during their lifetime.

A seizure is an episode of abnormal movements or behaviors caused by irregular electrical activity in the brain’s cortical neurons. Although not every seizure is related to epilepsy, those who have the condition are more likely to experience recurring seizures.

Inside a healthy brain, a series of synchronized electrical signals travels along the nerve cells, allowing your body to function. In an epileptic brain, these signals become disordered and uncoordinated, resulting in seizures.

Such disorderly electrical activity could take place throughout the brain (generalized) or be limited to only one area. This is why some seizures are long-lasting and affect a large portion of your body, while others are brief and affect only a small part.

Seizures tend to vary widely in severity and duration, and many are clueless about the proper steps to take when they occur. By educating yourself on the subject, you’ll be fully prepared for such an emergency.

Let’s get started by exploring the basic structure of your tongue.

  • It is a muscular organ involved in eating, speaking, tasting, and other activities. The pink tissue covering the outside is called mucosa and its uneven surface is composed of tiny projections or papillae. Papillae, in turn, are covered with thousands of taste buds which link directly to your central nervous system.
  • Rather than just sitting freely in your mouth, your tongue is completely attached to its base by toughened tissue and layers of mucosa. Near the front, this tissue is called the frenulum. Near the back, it’s anchored to the hyoid bone of your neck.

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Is it possible to swallow your own tongue? 

With its basic anatomical structure in mind, you now know that it’s impossible to swallow your own tongue. Although there’s often a loss of muscular control during a seizure, the tissues which firmly tether the base of your tongue to underlying structures prevent this from happening.

Unfortunately, many still believe in the old myth of placing something in the mouth of a person who is seizing. In reality, this only serves to obstruct the airway and poses an actual choking hazard.

First aid for seizures

A woman showing signs of a seizure

A generalized tonic-clonic episode, or grand mal seizure, is the type of seizure typically associated with epilepsy and presents symptoms such as:

  • contraction of the arm and/or leg muscles 
  • loss of consciousness
  • biting of the cheek or tongue
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • hallucinations
  • tingling sensations in various parts of the body
  • disorientation 

If you believe someone is experiencing an epileptic seizure, immediately follow these steps:

  • If the patient is standing, help them lie down on the floor and turn their body to one side. This eliminates the possibility of an obstructed airway. Also be sure to clear the surrounding area of any objects that may be unsafe.
  • Place a folded towel or clothing underneath the patient’s head for comfort and stability. Remove any eyeglasses, ties, or jewelry from their neck. Look for an emergency ID bracelet or necklace, which could contain vital medical information.
  • Remember to time the seizure, and immediately call 911 if the episode lasts for more than five minutes.

In the meantime, do not try to stop or interfere with the patient’s movements. Do not place anything in their mouth as it can damage their teeth or oral cavity. Do not give the patient any food or drink until they’re fully alert. And do not try to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the episode is over.

Once the seizure has passed, you should remain with the patient until they’ve completely recovered (note that it may take several minutes for them to become responsive).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279407/

https://www.healthline.com/health/swallowing-tongue

https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/picture-of-the-tongue#1

https://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/guide/first-aid-seizures#1

https://www.cdc.gov/epilepsy/about/first-aid.htm

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