Funny Taste Mystery: Using Google for Medical Diagnoses
I have just recovered from a case of pine nut mouth, or at least that's what I'm calling a recent health hiccup.
And I have Google to thank for saving me thousands of dollars, countless trips to doctors, and plenty of time worrying.
It started about a week ago. One morning I woke up, poured a bowl of generic brand Cheerios for breakfast, and seriously considered throwing the bowl out due to their terrible aftertaste. I decided that it was a burned batch and having nothing else breakfast-worthy I begrudgingly finished the bowl.
But at lunch time, my leftover stir-fry didn't taste good either. And by dinner I could only conclude that something was wrong with me. Everything I ate had a terrible, terrible aftertaste. Things just tasted funny.
That night I did a salt water rinse and brushed and flossed by teeth carefully, assuming that whatever it was would be gone by the next day. I woke up the next morning and - forgetting about the bad taste in my mouth - made some toast. I spit it out and quickly gulped down some tea. The bitter taste was concentrated solely on the back of my tongue and the roof of my mouth and happened only after eating or drinking. It was one of the strangest things I had ever experienced.
Normally I would make a quick call to my physician's nurse to see if making an appointment is necessary. But since moving I haven't yet found a primary care doctor.
So, I turned to Google. This is not something I usually do for medical issues. Typically one finds horror stories of all the worst possible things a symptom could point towards.
But, I searched anyway. Something along the lines of "funny taste in mouth back of tongue roof of mouth aftertaste." Definitely not a logical search, but I was desperate. Reading through several forums I cam across countless possible causes -- from acid reflux to infections to neurological diseases. But then someone mentioned pine nuts.
I had made homemade pesto the night before the funny taste started -- using recently purchased pine nuts.
So I did some more Googling. "Pine nut mouth" turns out to be a fairly common problem. A medical journal published an article about it and Wikipedia even references the issue. No conclusions are drawn about exactly what causes pine nut taste disturbances or how to get rid of it. But people report this funny taste lasting for a week or more. Mine lasted about 6 days.
Had I not spent 20 minutes searching on Google, I would have no doubt eventually gone to a regular doctor, then an ENT, had tests run, and spent a lot of money. All because of pine nuts.
I would never advocate using Google to diagnose your most serious medical problems. And relying on the internet for any sort of health answers can be dangerous. But, as with my pine nut conundrum, sometimes self diagnosing on the internet can be very beneficial.
Here are a few tips for more effective medical searching:
- Don't believe everything you read.
- Be wary of open forums where anyone can post an answer.
- Do a more focused search if you find something that sounds promising.
- Look for trusted sources -- the Mayo Clinic and WebMD are both good sites.
- Use Google's Scholar search for journal articles.
What has been your experience using the internet to diagnose medical issues? What other tips would you offer for finding trusted medical information on the internet?
(And If you like Dilbert, check out this strip about using Google for health diagnoses. It's one of my favorites.)
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