Monday, August 18, 2014

My Side Effects: Mouth Burning

Imagine eating spicy food and having that lingering burn tingle the inside of your mouth. Now imagine that instead of dissipating after a few minutes, that spicy sensation burns for three days. Imagine this sizzle not only coating the lining of your mouth, but injected deep in your jaw. 


If that imagery doesn't work, imagine using bleach as a mouthwash (also injected in your jaw). Yeouch! 

The gastrointestinal tract, including the mouth, is full of fast-growing cells. Chemotherapy drugs affect fast-growing cells in one's body. This is what leads to mouth pain, mouth sores, and other problems. 

Although I was warned about "mouth pain," this was an incredibly vague description at best and did nothing to prepare me for what I more accurately describe as mouth burning.


I consider myself lucky in that so far I only had to cope with this side effect during my first two treatments. (I am also glad I have not had any mouth sores yet.)

I have chemo every other Thursday, which is considered Day 1. The burning usually started on Saturday afternoon or evening (Day 3) and would hit its peak on Sunday and Monday. 

Swallowing food never posed a problem. My esophagus felt just dandy. It was the first few bites that were the worst. Each nibble was like biting into shards of glass marinated in Tobasco sauce and lit on fire. Didn't matter what I ate: soup, bread, yogurt, water, ice cream, chocolate milk. I have tasted a fiery banana and it was. not. good.


The experience was both excruciating and frustrating. Just when my appetite returned, everything turned to fireworks in my mouth and jaw. There were tears. There were four-letter words. Lots of four-letter words. Thankfully, the pain faded and by Wednesday (Day 7) my mouth mostly felt normal.

One aspect that helped me endure this pain during my second chemo was knowing it would be temporary. 

From my third treatment onward, the mouth burning has subsided. My lips feel tingly-numb for a few days starting on Saturday. The tingle feels more weird than painful, as if I've blown a raspberry or imitated a helicopter. Oddly, my feet will simultaneously feel tingly-numb. And I get a slight earache. Occasionally I sense slight mouth burning and pain in my jaw, which is nothing compared to the first two treatments. That was torture deep fried in Mount St. Helens.


My Solutions 

I tried several strategies to overcoming this side effect and I can't say I came up with anything definitive.

At first I ate slowly. Ugh! Agony!

When I realized the first two bites of a meal were the worst, my technique became push through those first bites, let the teardrops fall, and eat as fast as possible. Subsequent bites yielded less discomfort except for feeling very full very fast. A break of longer than twenty seconds meant restarting the whole process.


Milk kind of helped ease my pain. I still use this technique. Plus, I love milk. Especially when it's chocolatey. Mmmm.

My cancer center's pharmacy concocts a special prescription-only lidocaine mouthwash. I tried it a couple of times. Never worked for me. And the consistency was horrible. I have yet to refill my prescription.

I tried brushing my teeth before a meal. Actually, brushing my teeth felt soothing in general. (Yes, I know toothbrushes are technically another chemo no-no. I really hate soft bristle toothbrushes. And those mini sponges on a stick? No thank you.)


I also tried avoiding brushing my teeth, you know to, uh, avoid further damage to the cells lining my mouth? Anything that might work, right? 

Of course, oral hygiene is important, so rather than go without polishing my pearly whites, I switched to using Biotène toothpaste, which is formulated to help people with dry mouth.


I can't say this for 100% certain (I'm not a doctor, after all), but once I started taking my prescription of Omeprazole daily to ease acid reflux (another fun chemo side effect!), the mouth pain also went away. Coincidence? Perhaps.

I don't care exactly how or why the mouth burning sensation diminished. All I can say is I am grateful it has. And if it returns, I'll be ready for it.


Further Reading

Every person is different and their experiences will differ from mine. Always discuss your particular symptoms and concerns with your doctor.

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