Why is my tongue swollen? What causes the swelling on one side, with teeth marks, and sore throat? Discover treatments, medications, and remedies for various causes including trauma, allergies, disease and infections, dehydration, cold sores, amyloidosis, cancer, yeast infection, thyroid problems, glossitis, angioedema among others.
Your tongue is mainly made up of structured muscular cell layer often known as the epithelium. Its surface is covered with taste buds whose role is to differentiate different tastes such as salty, bitter, and sweet and so on.
This refers to a condition where a part (e.g. one side, the tip or back) or your entire tongue becomes enlarged or distended.
You may have a slightly or a severe swelling that might make eating, breathing and talking difficult. At times, it is not only your tongue that swells but also your voice box, taste buds (papillae), gums, mouth, and even lips, depending on what causes the swelling.
Swelling that does not last long should not worry you because the swelling is a body defense mechanism that fights infections and aids in healing. However, if it is prolonged, it might be harmful or be an indication of a different problem.
Furthermore, when it is accompanied by some symptoms we will mention later, it might be a life-threatening problem that needs a medical emergency.
Swelling the main symptom you expect to have. Other common symptoms and you may have included:
- Chewing, swallowing and speaking difficulties
- Tongue color changes where it might be red or pale.
- Blocked airways in case of a severe swelling
- Swollen lymph nodes under your mandible and chin region.
- presence of bumps, ulcers or lesions
- Tongue pain, mouth pain or burning sensation
- General edema
- Fever and headache
- Its texture might change
- Blood in case of trauma
- Soreness and tenderness
- Lip swelling
- Throat swelling
- swollen papillae
There are many other symptoms you might have but they will be related to underlying disease or cause such as anemia, HIV, cancer, diabetes, among many other conditions we will discuss while looking at the causes.
Sometimes, different causes might have very similar signs. It is good to go for a differential diagnosis if it persists for a long time to determine the exact cause.
Why is it swollen or causes
There are many causes and reasons which might make your tongue to feel swollen. Some of the most common causes include the following:
a). Trauma and injuries
A fairly common is injuries and trauma that include burns (from hot liquids and foods), biting your tongue, irritation, and injuries from dental appliances, surgical procedures, piercing, among others. Furthermore, chewing tobacco is known to cause irritation and swelling.
Some conditions such as epilepsy might cause biting your tongue i.e. bitten during seizures as the patients try to stop airway blockage due to tongue swallowing during the attack.
Allergies are also a common cause. The common allergens could be food if you suffer from food allergies, insect stings (especially wasp and bee sting), hives (bumpy and itchy tongue), some medications such as ACE inhibitors used in treating high blood pressure, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen) among other medications.
When caused by allergies, the swelling will tend to be sudden and after you have encountered with the triggering allergen. The swelling might also affect your mouth, lips, gums or even face and be accompanied with other symptoms such as mild vomiting, mild diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, abdominal cramps, mild coughing, skin rashes, among others.
In case you suffer from anaphylaxis which is more serious allergic reactions that might affect several body parts at the same time, ensure you seek immediate medical attention since the condition can be life-threatening. It is usually accompanied by itchy, hives, short breath, rapid breath, among other symptoms.
c). Diseases and conditions
There are a number of diseases and conditions that can result in tongue swelling which you need to know. The common ones to look out for include the following:
If you have a slowly swelling that gradually increases, you could be suffering from a condition known as amyloidosis. This condition occurs when “harmful amyloid proteins are deposited into tissues and organs” [Everydayhealth.com] and your tongue will keep on becoming bigger.
2. Tongue cancer
This is a common neck and head cancer that is diagnosed in more than 10,000 people in the US alone. It can be cured if diagnosed and treated early. The symptoms you will first notice include ulcers, lumps, red painless patches, white spots or patches especially on your outer tongue layer as well as areas surrounding it. You might also have eating difficulties, mouth bleeding, ear pain, persistent sore throat and mouth numbness.
In most cases, this oral cancer is painful and leaves persistent tongue lesions (that won’t go away) that increase in size as time goes by. In some cases, it might not be painful. The moment you notice any of the above symptoms on your tongue that does not go away after two weeks, get biopsied to confirm the cause.
3. Herpes viruses (cold sores) and canker sores
If you have a swollen painful tongue that has ulcers or lesions, it could be cold sores. Cold sores are caused by herpes viruses and can affect the various part of the body including your mouth. These fever blisters often clear after 7-14 days but medicines such as acyclovir can speed up healing. Similarly, canker sores can cause both ulcers and swelling.
4. Fungal and yeast infection
Mouth fungal and yeast infection is another possible cause. Fungal infections will tend to be common for people who have to take antibiotics courses regularly. For people who have immune systems that are compromised, such as people with HIV, candida thrush, a yeast infection can easily affect them. Candida thrush can be treated with a number of medications both oral and the type you swash and spit or swallow. Oral fluconazole can be of help too.
5. Thyroid or hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism also is known as underactive thyroid disease is a common endocrine disorder where your thyroid glands do not produce enough thyroid hormone. This can result in tongue swelling and will be accompanied by other signs and symptoms that include fatigue, dry skin, puffy face, weak muscles, painful or stiff joints, hair thinning, weight gain, constipation, depression, impaired memory among others.
Note: Illness and tongue diseases that make it swell might also make under the chin and mandible lymph nodes to swell or even swollen taste buds. The moment the infection goes away, the swelling will also go away. However, if it persists, you need to go for cancer checkup.
6. Scarlet fever
This is a bacterial infection that will make it bald (without papillae) and swollen. A whitish or yellowish coating is also common and it will peel leaving your tongue red and swollen i.e. a strawberry tongue. It has other symptoms that include swollen neck glands, nausea, vomiting and red blotches (first sign).
7. Glossitis or inflammation
This “is a problem in which the tongue is swollen and changes color, often making the surface of the tongue appear smooth.” [Nlm.nih.gov]. It could be symptoms of other conditions such as allergic reactions, injuries, the skin condition that affects your mouth, irritants such as hot food, alcohol abuse, tobacco, dry mouth, hormonal factors, viral, bacterial or yeast infection, etc.
Good oral care, good diet, antibiotics, avoiding irritants are some of the ways to deal with glossitis.
This refers to the rapid swelling of “dermis, subcutaneous tissue, mucosa, and submucosal tissues” [Wikipedia]. It is much similar to hives but hives occur on the upper dermis. It can cause allergies, hereditary factors or through the use of some drugs. It can cause mouth, tongue, and throat swelling rapidly and it affects other areas of the body.
9. Other diseases and conditions
Going on with causes, still, under diseases and conditions, the below diseases and conditions have also been associated with this condition:
- Sores which are caused mainly by viruses such as herpangina
- Kawasaki disease
- Pernicious anemia
- Multiple myelomas
- Strep infection
- Pituitary gland problems
- Oral neurofibroma especially neurofibromatosis type 1
- Tooth decay or aches
Going on with causes, lack of food and fluids (dehydration) can make your tongue to swell and crack i.e. it will make your mouth dry and your tongue is swollen. This will be coupled with other symptoms of dehydration that include parched and cracked lips, mouth caking with a thick material, hollow cheeks, loose dry skin, concentrated urine that burns the bladder, dry respiratory track among others.
Ensuring you have enough fluids and food is the best way of dealing with dehydration since if it becomes acute, it can cause death.
Immediately after a tongue piercing, you can experience some swelling. This swelling will disappear after a few days.
However, in case of an infection or injuries you might end up with a swollen tongue piercing after months, or after years. If caused by infection, it will come with other signs such as redness, discharges, bleeding, discoloration, abscess, bumps or bubble, etc.
There are many tips, home remedies, ideas and ways to deal with this problem you need to be aware of. See more detail on tongue piercing infection.
f). Other causes
There are many other general reasons which include the following:
- Genetic disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome or Down’s syndrome, lymphangioma
- Inflammation and swelling of taste buds
- Dietary deficiencies especially vitamin D, B-3, and B-12
Where or which part of your tongue can be affected or swollen?
Under tongue and swollen glands
In case you have swollen under, back of the tongue, this indicates a problem with your salivary glands. The swelling could be with pain or without pain (no pain), with the chin swollen too, on one side, and so on.
Swollen glands are caused by a number of things that include salivary stones, salivary gland infection, mumps, HIV, parainfluenza types I and II, influenza A, herpes, tumor, blocked salivary glands often by mucous, poor oral hygiene among others.
See more details on swollen under tongue salivary glands.
One side: left or right
Having one side affected i.e. on one side i.e. on the left side or right side might not indicate a specific problem since it can be caused by a number of things. Swollen tongue one side can be caused by trauma such as dental appliances, injuries, piercings, biting your tongue, getting burned and so on.
Also, various infections can affect one side of your tongue. Who said you cannot have cold sores, canker sores, oral cancer or any other infection cannot cause one side to swell??
Finally, allergic reactions and angioedema can also cause swelling left or right side. Do not be surprised if the swelling is on the tip of your tongue.
In babies, it can be caused by any of the causes we have discussed that include diseases and conditions, allergies, trauma, inflamed papillae, dehydration among others.
With teeth marks
Sometimes, you might have a swollen tongue with teeth marks on its side i.e. on one or both sides. This is an indication of nutritional deficiency, liver inflammation, thyroid problems, body water retention (due to diabetes, hepatomegaly, liver inflammation, fatigue, sluggishness, abdominal distention, etc.), tongue scalloping. It could also be due to an impaired spleen among many other problems. An impaired spleen will also be accompanied by bloating and excessive gas.
Some of the foods that can nourish your spleen include kidney beans, aduki beans, yellow squash, barley, millet, oats, carrots, celery, chicken, pumpkin, fennel, fish, yams, root vegetables, algae, kale, parsnips, parsley, beetroot, lychees, alfalfa among others.
With a sore throat
A swollen tongue and sore throat is an indication of allergic reactions, angioedema, anaphylaxis, tongue cancer or mononucleosis. Having a mouth infection could also result in these symptoms. When caused by allergic reactions, you might have other symptoms such as breathing difficulties, rashes, hives, and sneezing.
If it is swollen with a sore throat, it could be caused by mononucleosis (kissing disease) which spreads via saliva or tears, you will be feeling extreme fatigue, have a fever. Being a viral infection, you can only take medicines to reduce the symptoms you have.
Finally, if it is cancer, you expect the symptoms we already discussed in addition to ear pain or aches, white patches on the tongue, swollen glands, and swollen lymph nodes, red patches on tongue, numbness, pain, and bleeding. A lump is also probable.
Treatment will entirely depend on the cause unless you opt for remedies which can help in reducing the swelling (remedies). We will discuss various treatments, medications, home remedies while bearing in mind the cause. So, how do you treat it?
Once you determine it is as a result of allergies, you need to avoid the allergens be it medications, food or bee sting. Antihistamines can then be used to deal with allergies as well as corticosteroids. Try methylprednisolone, Benadryl, or injectable epinephrine in cases of severe swelling.
Diseases and conditions
We have seen the fact that various diseases and conditions including HIV, herpes virus, amyloid, canker sores, tongue cancer, etc. can be behind your tongue swelling. Ensure you deal with the underlying disease or condition. There are various treatments you could opt for. See qualified medical care professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Generally, bacterial infections might be treated using prescribed antibiotics while antivirals might help to reduce the symptoms of any infections caused by viruses.
Trauma and injury-related
Serious tongue injuries require medical attention to stop bleeding and reduce the swelling. For minor cases, you might such ice chips to reduce the swelling, keep your head raised above your head (using pillows) and take pain-relieving medications.
Remedies reduce or bring down the swelling
To help get rid of the swelling, you can try various remedies. They will help in reducing the swelling as well as soothing some of the symptoms you might be having.
- Use a soft toothbrush to brush it gently
- Put sugar on top of the swelling can help bring down the swelling
- Gargling diluted turmeric solution (water and turmeric powder) can reduce inflammation and bring down swelling. You can also gargle alcohol-free mouthwashes or sea salt rinse (1 tsp of salt in a cup of warm water) to help fight any infections.
- Reduce salt consumption as too much salt encourage more saliva which might be difficult to swallow now that your tongue is already swollen already.
- Add celery sticks to your meals
- Drink small amounts of water regularly can help ease your swelling
- Placing cold spoons on it or ice cubes can help reduce the swelling
- Another way to cure a swollen tongue is by using mint, anise and rosemary mouthwash. Soak mint, rosemary, anise in a water bowl, strain it in the morning and use it as a mouthwash.
- There are a number of herbal Chinese medicines that might also help.
When to see a doctor
As mentioned at the beginning, some there are some symptoms which when they are accompanied with tongue swelling requires you see a doctor immediately and they include drooling, anaphylaxis (severe allergy or anaphylactic shock), throat tightness, coughing blood, difficulties in breathing or a persistently swollen tongue that lasts beyond 2 weeks.