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It's getting hot in here: Burning Mouth Syndrome baffles doctors

Bill Briggs writes: When Nadia Cwiach speaks, no puffs of smoke emerge with her words. No plumes of flame or popping red embers streak from her lips. Just the faint haze of a Big Apple accent.

But inside Cwiach’s mouth, it’s pure hell: a fiery, scalding sensation coats her tongue, cheeks and day and night. For two years and four months, Cwiach says her entire oral cavity has felt a little like she’s munching on a blazing book of matches while swigging a nice toasty glass of gasoline.

“There are just days where you’re really miserable,” says Cwiach, meaning that some Mondays may feel hotter in there than some Tuesdays. But pretty much every day, it’s a scorcher in there.

Maybe the only soothing thing about Cwiach’s condition is that it has, according to the Mayo Clinic, an official name: Burning Mouth Syndrome. While the Mayo folks are on the case, they can’t figure out the cure – much less the source for the constant internal inferno. By some estimates, it affects about 4 percent of U.S. adults, typically women 50 and older.

According to MayoClinic.com, sufferers are afflicted with a heated, chronic pain that coats their tongue, gums, lips, cheeks, and the roof of their mouth. For some people, the sting increases as the day grows longer. The “primary cause,” the clinic adds, “isn’t known.”

Cwiach, 64, has no family history of the symptoms and received her diagnosis after her doctor, a gastroenterologist, used blood tests and a battery of other exams to rule out every other possible disease, bug or virus.

“They think it’s possibly hormonal, and it strikes mostly postmenopausal women,” said Cwiach, who lives in Stamford, Conn. “So after hearing that, I asked: is there really anything else that women (my age) need?”

From blazing mouths, sarcasm flows.

You’re probably thinking – what about ice cubes or popsicles? She’s tried them. Sucking on those helps “just for that moment.” She’s switched to additive-free toothpastes. She has swished a medicine cabinet full of mouth washes to try to douse the fire. She’s tried eating bland foods. She’s tried eating spicy foods.

“It’s all the same,” she says.

She’s theorized that maybe stress is a factor. But she recently had some tense days at work and the condition didn’t seem to burn any hotter. So Cwiach doesn’t believe her environment is fueling the problem. And her sleeping has not been interrupted.

“When it’s just there and burning, you almost get used to it. You forget about it.”

She’s learned two other bizarre elements about the syndrome. For many people, she says, the condition lasts for about seven years.

And in the final stage, apparently, “it leaves you as abruptly as it comes.”

So she’s looking at 2015, and hoping that’s the coolest year of her life.

Have you ever had a mysterious illness? Tell us about it in the comments.

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