Being able to lick the ice cream off your own nose is a fine party trick, and it’s one Stephen Taylor — the man with the world’s longest tongue — has undoubtedly pulled. But such a feat comes with certain costs, one that Taylor bears daily and another he risks while he sleeps.
Taylor’s tongue is 3.8 inches long (9.8 centimeters), according to Guinness World Records’ measure. By some accounts, it’s still growing, thanks to the exercises Taylor performs to keep his record-breaking muscle from becoming inflexible. While entertaining — or revolting, depending on whom you ask — Taylor’s risk of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) greatly increases because of the abnormality. He also speaks with a lisp, as his tongue crowds his mouth and makes enunciating more difficult.
“Where a very, very large tongue could cause problems is if someone has, as a consequence of a very large tongue, a very narrow airway,” said otolaryngologist Dr. Mike Papesch. “As a result of that, at night, particularly while they’re lying flat, the tongue can move backward and they can get obstruction of their breathing, which is known as obstructive sleep apnea.”
Taylor says he hasn’t faced OSA yet — despite it being particularly tricky to self-diagnose, as the patient is asleep when he suffers from it. Aside from the lisp, his only complaint is that he tends to bite the tongue on accident.
“I do tend to bite my tongue a lot, and it’s usually when I’m asleep at night,” Taylor said. “But I can’t see any other problems with the tongue.”
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs most often in the elderly and the obese, sometimes even in heavy users of cigarettes or alcohol, depending on how relaxed the muscles of the upper airway become. In obese sufferers, the buildup of tissue is what causes the obstruction. In the elderly, OSA typically results from a weakened set of muscles keeping the airway open.
Even if it doesn’t cause Taylor or his partner, Rachel, any sleep troubles, the tongue isn’t always met with the warmest of welcomes.
“When Steve kisses me I prefer him to just give me a pucker type of kiss, instead of a french kiss…because of the length of his tongue,” she said.
Unfortunately for Rachel, her partner’s tongue is still growing. Taylor originally had his tongue measured for the world record in 2009. At the time, his tongue measured 9.5 centimeters from “the tip of the tongue to the center of the closed lips,” according to Marco Frigatti, of Guinness World Records. Since then, the body’s strongest muscle pound for pound has increased in size by half of a centimeter.
“It keeps growing, probably because of all the TV shows where I’ve been sticking it out,” he joked. “I can actually get it to 10cm with a push, but that’s a bit painful.”