How to treat a swollen tongue?

Swollen Tongue: Causes and Treatments

Does your tongue feel uncomfortably large in your mouth? Perhaps you’re worried you may be having an allergic reaction to something you ate. A doctor or dentist can help discover the cause of your swollen tongue and provide treatment; though, don’t wait for an appointment if you’re also having breathing difficulties. Visit a medical professional immediately.

What Causes a Swollen Tongue?

The tongue is a versatile muscle that’s vital for eating and speaking, and it doesn’t take long to notice when it feels large and thick. Redness and changes in the surface texture could accompany the swelling. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the medical term for a red, inflamed tongue is glossitis, and allergic reactions, injuries, infections and irritants are a few of the most common causes of the condition.

An allergic reaction might be due to food, medicine or oral care products. Irritation can be caused by alcohol, tobacco or spicy foods. A skin condition, vitamin deficiency or hormonal issue may also cause tongue swelling. Finally, glossitis is sometimes a symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes dry mouth.

Food Allergens

Certain types of food can trigger an oral allergy, marked by an itchy mouth or a swollen tongue, while other foods cause a whole-body allergic reaction that may include the mouth. NIH lists apples, melons and pineapples as typical foods that trigger an oral allergy, and notes that the allergic reaction is often strongest when these fruits are eaten raw. Some foods that may cause a whole-body allergic reaction are eggs, peanuts, fish, shellfish, milk, tree nuts, wheat and soy.

Allergic Reactions

The Mayo Clinic explains that another term to describe swelling in the tongue, lips and face is angioedema, which means a swelling of deep layers of skin. Angioedema is an allergic reaction that can happen suddenly or over a period of time. Symptoms that often accompany the allergic reaction are hives, reddened skin, itching in the mouth, nausea, stomach pains, a runny nose and sneezing.

Food Allergy Research and Education warns that a swollen tongue, lips or throat are signs of a serious allergic reaction that can quickly become life-threatening without treatment. If you have swelling around or in your mouth and you have difficulty breathing or swallowing, begin to turn blue, have chest pain or feel faint, seek medical help immediately.

How to Treat a Swollen Tongue

A mild case of swollen tongue often goes away without treatment after a few days. It’s imperative to see a dentist or doctor if your symptoms last longer than a few days, you experience breathing difficulties or your throat is also swelling. With the appropriate treatment, the swelling will go down. The Mayo Clinic writes that if the swelling is due to a food allergy, antihistamine medication is the usual prescribed treatment.

How to Prevent Tongue Swelling

If you know what food or other allergen caused your tongue swelling, you can prevent a repeat episode by avoiding the trigger food or substance. However, sometimes the culprit isn’t obvious. In these cases, keep a diary of what you eat or use in or around your mouth. Whenever you experience swelling or other symptoms, make a note. With your doctor’s help, you should be able to determine which food or product you need to remove from your diet or personal care routine.

Although tongue swelling is annoying, it’s often possible to identify the cause and prevent the problem from returning. Speak to your dentist or doctor if you experience this symptom to receive treatment and discuss what steps to take next.

6 Things Your Tongue Tells You

There’s no need to wait until you’re in a dentist’s chair to open wide. Regularly inspecting your tongue in a mirror can help you detect issues in your mouth—and other parts of your body—before they become more serious. Stick it out and give yourself a quick health check.

More From Men’s Health: 7 Dental Problems You Can Fix Yourself

The sign: Swollen grey/white balloon under your tongue.

What it means: You could have a clogged salivary gland. When this occurs, something is blocking the tiny ducts so they can’t drain saliva, causing swelling, fluid build-up, and pain. One of the most common causes of a clogged duct is a salivary stone. “It’s a calcium deposit similar to a kidney stone,” says Mark Woff, D.D.S, chair of cariology and comprehensive care at New York University College of Dentistry. If it doesn’t go away on its own within a few days, make an appointment with your dentist—the deposit may need to be surgically removed.

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The sign: Sores with a halo around them.

What it means: A healthy tongue is pink and relatively smooth with no lumps or bumps. If you notice any red or whitish patches, a spot with a red ring around it, white areas with a lace-like pattern, or an unhealing sore, alert your doctor or dentist—it could signal cancer. While rates of other types of cancer are on the decline, the incidence of oral cancer has increased approximately 25 percent over the past decade, possibly due to the rise in human papilloma virus (HPV), a risk factor for the disease.

The sign: Thick red tongue.

What it means: Check your diet—you could have a vitamin deficiency. Your tongue is one of the first places a vitamin B12 deficiency appears. The vitamin is essential for creating healthy red blood cells, and subpar levels can lead to anemia. With that disease, your tongue may feel sore and is sometimes said to appear “beefy.” If you eat a typical U.S. diet, you’re probably getting enough vitamin B12 since it’s mostly found in meat, poultry, milk, fish, and eggs. However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan or have a digestive disorder such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, you may not be getting enough. Taking a multivitamin and eating fortified foods like cereal can help.

More From Men’s Health: 7 Weird Signs Of Health Troubles

The sign: Black, hairy-looking tongue.

What it means: Did you recently take antibiotics? A course of the drugs can disrupt the normal bacteria in your yapper, causing an overgrowth that builds up on tiny round projections on your tongue called papillae. Instead of sloughing off like they normally do, the papillae can grow and give your tongue a hairy appearance. The good news: For the most part, it’s harmless and should go away on its own. However, the bacteria can cause bad breath and affect your ability to taste. “Brush your tongue really well with a toothbrush and toothpaste each day and you’ll help the normal flora return,” Dr. Wolff says.

The sign: Swelling.

What it means: Of all the symptoms to watch for, this requires the most immediate attention, since you could be having an allergic reaction. “It isn’t actually so much swelling of the tongue that occurs, but swelling of the airway behind the tongue that pushes the tongue forward, making it appear larger,” Dr. Wolff says. Without quick treatment, swelling in your mouth can block your airway and become life-threatening, Dr. Wolff adds. Seek medical attention right away.

The sign: Dry, white glossy tongue.

What it means: Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. This can cause uncomfortable dryness on the tongue and affect the balance of bacteria, which may cause a change in your tongue’s color and appearance. When left untreated, dry mouth can increase your risk of gum disease and tooth decay—normally, saliva deposits minerals that help keep your teeth healthy—and it may also increase your risk of oral infections. Drinking plenty of water and using a humidifier if you live in a dry environment can help. If dry mouth is a chronic problem, medications you take for allergies, high blood pressure, asthma, and other conditions may be to blame. Talk to your doc about switching prescriptions. You can also treat dry mouth with over-the-counter mouth rinses, which work like an artificial saliva substitute.

More From Men’s Health: 5 Things That Can Do Lasting Damage To Your Mouth

This article was written by Paige Fowler and originally appeared on MensHealth.com

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First Aid: Allergic Reactions

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Allergic reactions can be triggered by foods, medicines, pets, insect stings, pollen, and other things. Most allergic reactions aren’t serious. But severe reactions can be life-threatening and need immediate medical care.

Signs and Symptoms

Mild:

  • itching
  • skin redness
  • slight swelling
  • stuffy, runny nose
  • sneezing
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • red bumps (hives) anywhere on the body

Severe:

  • swelling of the mouth or tongue
  • trouble swallowing or speaking
  • wheezing or trouble breathing
  • belly pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • dizziness or fainting

What to Do

  • Contact a doctor if your child has an allergic reaction that is more than mild or concerns you.
  • If the symptoms are mild, give an antihistamine by mouth such as diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl).
  • If the symptoms are severe and you have injectable epinephrine (such as EpiPen), use it as directed right away and call 911 for emergency medical help.

Think Prevention!

Help kids avoid anything they’re allergic to, and keep an oral antihistamine available.

If your child has a severe allergy or has had a severe reaction, be sure the injectable epinephrine is on-hand at all times (including at school). You, your child (if old enough), and anyone who cares for your child know how to use it.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD Date reviewed: April 2018

Sore or painful tongue

A sore or painful tongue is usually caused by something obvious and visible, although there are a few less obvious causes you should be aware of that may need treating.

See your doctor or dentist if you have persistent pain and you haven’t accidentally bitten or burnt your tongue.

There may be an underlying problem that needs treating, and your doctor or dentist may be able to advise you about pain relief.

This page outlines some of the most common causes of tongue pain, as well as a number of less common causes.

You shouldn’t use the information on this page to diagnose yourself with a condition – always leave that to a healthcare professional.

Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a condition where irregular smooth, red patches that have a white or light-coloured border occur on the tongue. It’s called geographic tongue because the patches have a map-like appearance.

The patches can vary in size, and may occur on one area of the tongue before moving to another area after a few days, weeks or months.

In some people, the patches can feel sore or sensitive when consuming certain foods and drinks.

Some people with geographic tongue find it improves over time, while for others it may be more persistent.

See your doctor or dentist if you have persistent, discoloured or painful patches on your tongue.

The cause of geographic tongue isn’t clear and there’s no specific treatment for it.

However, you may be able to manage the pain by taking over-the-counter painkillers – speak to your pharmacist for advice.

You should also avoid anything that makes it worse, such as acidic, spicy or hot foods.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush (oral candiasis) is an infection caused by a type of fungus called Candida.

It causes white patches (plaques) to develop in the mouth. You may experience a loss of taste or an unpleasant taste in your mouth. It can also be painful, making eating and drinking difficult.

Median rhomboid glossitis is a condition that can affect your tongue if you have oral thrush. It causes a red, smooth patch or lump to develop in the middle of the top part of your tongue, which can be sore.

You’re more likely to develop oral thrush if you:

  • have recently taken antibiotics
  • take inhaled corticosteroid medication for asthma
  • wear dentures , particularly if they don’t fit properly
  • have poor oral hygiene
  • have a medical condition, such as diabetes
  • have a dry mouth , either because of a medical condition or a medication you’re taking
  • smoke
  • have a weakened immune system as a result of having chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for cancer

See your doctor if you think you have oral thrush. If it’s left untreated, the symptoms will persist and your mouth will continue to be uncomfortable.

Oral thrush is treated with antifungal medicines , often in the form of a gel or liquid that you apply directly to the inside of your mouth.

You’ll usually need to use it several times a day for around 7 to 14 days.

Aphthous mouth ulcers

Aphthous mouth ulcers are painful round or oval sores that can occur anywhere in the mouth and are common on the underside of the tongue.

Mouth ulcers are sometimes caused by damage to the mouth, such as accidentally biting your tongue or eating something hard and sharp.

Ulcers that keep recurring may be caused by stress, anxiety, eating certain foods, stopping smoking, or hormonal changes – some women develop mouth ulcers during their monthly period .

Read more about the causes of mouth ulcers.

Most mouth ulcers heal within a week or two without treatment. In the meantime, you may be able to manage the pain by taking over-the-counter painkillers and avoiding anything that makes it worse, such as eating spicy foods.

See your doctor or dentist if you have a mouth ulcer that doesn’t improve within a few weeks or you develop ulcers regularly.

Less common causes

Less commonly, tongue pain may be caused by:

  • a viral infection – such as an infection that causes hand, foot and mouth disease or cold sores
  • vitamin deficiencies and anaemia – a sore tongue can sometimes be a symptom of iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia
  • glossodynia or “burning mouth syndrome” – a burning pain on the tip of the tongue that often affects people with depression
  • glossopharyngeal neuralgia – repeated episodes of severe tongue pain thought to be caused by nerve irritation
  • lichen planus – a long-term skin condition that causes an itchy rash and can also affect the mouth, causing a white lacy pattern and painful patches on the tongue
  • Behçet’s disease – a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and can also lead to painful mouth ulcers
  • pemphigus vulgaris – a rare and serious condition that causes painful blisters to develop on the skin, as well as inside the mouth, nose, throat, anus and genitals
  • medications – painful mouth ulcers can be a side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and beta-blockers; certain mouthwashes can also cause tongue pain in some people
  • Moeller’s glossitis – a type of inflammation of the tongue
  • cancer of the tongue – although this is rare

If you have sores in obscure places as well as on the tongue, you may have a skin disease such as pemphigus vulgaris or lichen planus.

9 Possible Swollen Tongue Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen tongue. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)

When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergy, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness

Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or “underactive thyroid,” means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body’s metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It’s important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor

ACE Inhibitors are drugs used to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure and diabetes. In rare cases, these drugs can cause an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, swollen face, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, swollen tongue

Symptoms that never occur with swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor: hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Chronic salivary duct stone (sialolithiasis)

A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling, painful face swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Swollen Tongue Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your swollen tongue

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums. It is typically caused by poor dental hygiene and the buildup of bacteria. Its hallmark symptoms are swollen, discolored, bleeding gums. The main risk factors for the development of the disease are increasing age, smoking, and dry mouth. It is both treatable and …

Angioedema

Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, swollen face, hand swelling

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Acute salivary duct stone (sialolithiasis)

A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a disorder of the kidneys that results in too much protein excreted into your urine. It is usually associated with damaged kidneys specifically damage to the kidneys’ filters, called glomeruli.

Kidney damage and nephrotic syndrome primarily include albuminur…

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition most commonly caused by an allergic reaction. In anaphylaxis, two types of immune cells — mast cells and basophils — are suddenly activated and release numerous inflammatory substances that cause blood vessels to dilate and become leaky, which can lead to low …

Tongue problems

The tongue is mainly made up of muscles. It is covered with a mucous membrane. Small bumps (papillae) cover the surface of back part of the tongue.

  • Between the papillae are the taste buds, which allow you to taste.
  • The tongue moves food to help you chew and swallow.
  • The tongue also helps you form words.

There are many different reasons for changes in the tongue’s function and appearance.

PROBLEMS MOVING THE TONGUE

Tongue movement problems are most often caused by nerve damage. Rarely, problems moving the tongue may also be caused by a disorder where the band of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth is too short. This is called ankyloglossia.

Tongue movement problems may lead to:

  • Breastfeeding problems in newborns
  • Difficulty moving food during chewing and swallowing
  • Speech problems

TASTE PROBLEMS

Taste problems can be caused by:

  • Damage to the taste buds
  • Nerve problems
  • Side effects of some medicines
  • An infection, or other condition

The tongue normally senses sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. Other “tastes” are actually a function of the sense of smell.

Watch this video about:Tasting

INCREASED SIZE OF THE TONGUE

Tongue swelling occurs with:

  • Acromegaly
  • Amyloidosis
  • Down syndrome
  • Myxedema
  • Rhabdomyoma
  • Prader Willi Syndrome

The tongue may get wider in people who have no teeth and do not wear dentures.

Sudden swelling of the tongue can happen due to an allergic reaction or a side effect of medicines.

COLOR CHANGES

Color changes may occur when the tongue becomes inflamed (glossitis). Papillae (bumps on the tongue) are lost, causing the tongue to appear smooth. Geographic tongue is a patchy form of glossitis where the location of inflammation and the appearance of the tongue change from day to day.

HAIRY TONGUE

Hairy tongue is a condition in which the tongue looks hairy or furry. It can sometimes be treated with antifungal medicine.

BLACK TONGUE

Sometimes the upper surface of the tongue turns black or brown in color. This is an unsightly condition but it is not harmful.

PAIN IN THE TONGUE

Pain may occur with glossitis and geographic tongue. Tongue pain may also occur with:

  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Leukoplakia
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Oral cancer

After menopause, some women have a sudden feeling that their tongue has been burned. This is called burning tongue syndrome or idiopathic glossopyrosis. There is no specific treatment for burning tongue syndrome, but capsaicin (the ingredient that makes peppers spicy) can offer relief to some people.

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