The human tongue can help you accomplish many tasks: differentiating between five taste types, digesting food, cleaning your mouth and speaking more than 90 words per minute. One thing you can't do is swallow your tongue. Swallowing your tongue is simply a myth.
Anatomy of the Tongue
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the tongue is a very flexible set of muscles loaded with nerves and rich with blood. Its many functions include allowing you to speak, eat, drink, taste, chew, swallow and defend your body against germs.
While the tongue's tip is free to move, the underside of the tongue is anchored to the floor of the mouth by a tissue strip known as the lingual frenulum. The lingual frenulum attaches the tongue to the lower jaw, making it impossible for you to swallow your tongue.
Seizures and Oral Injuries
You may have heard that people who have a seizure are at risk of swallowing their tongue, but this isn't true. A seizure is a sudden electrical outburst in the brain, states the Mayo Clinic. Seizures may cause uncontrollable thrashing of the limbs, loss of awareness or consciousness, temporary confusion or staring spells.
Suffering a seizure or losing consciousness from head trauma makes the oral cavity prone to various injuries, but swallowing your tongue isn't one. A study published by the Polish Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery concludes that more than 50 percent of patients suffer oral injuries during an epileptic seizure, including cracking or fracturing of the teeth. Tongue biting often occurs with an epileptic event, according to the Austin Journal of Neurological Disorders & Epilepsy.
Seizure First Aid
The Epilepsy Foundation lists ways you can help someone who is having a seizure. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and make a note of the seizure's total length. If the person has seizures frequently, it may be important to note if the seizure lasts longer than typical.
Keep calm. Remaining calm will help those around you do so, too. If you can, try to prevent the person from falling or hurting themselves during the seizure. Move them away from oncoming traffic and sharp objects in the vicinity.
Avoid holding the person down while they're experiencing a seizure. Restraint can lead to injuries and confuse the person you're trying to help.
Don't put anything in their mouth because jaw and facial muscles may tighten during a seizure. If an object is in the person's mouth, they may swallow it or bite down and break their teeth.
If you're in a situation where someone becomes unconscious, whether from a seizure or head injury, brief yourself on the steps to administer first aid outlined by the National Institutes of Health.
Start by calling or having someone call 911. Watch the person's breath and pulse, as you may need to safely perform CPR if breathing or the pulse stops. If the person is breathing and you're certain they don't have a spinal cord injury, roll them on their side facing you. Use care when you position them and make sure their airway remains open.
If you suspect the person suffered a spinal cord injury, leave them how you found them so long as they can breathe. If they vomit, support their neck and back and roll them on their side. While you wait for medical professionals to arrive, keep the person warm.
Although it's impossible for an unconscious person to swallow or choke on their tongue, it's important to monitor the situation to reduce their risk of injury. If you or someone you know is concerned about oral complications after a seizure or head injury, consult a doctor.