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What Causes a Tingling Tongue?

Is this cause for concern?

Your tongue is feeling weird. It’s tingling, giving you a sort of pins-and-needles sensation in your mouth. At the same time, it might also feel a little numb. Should you be worried?

Probably not. A tingling tongue often isn’t anything to worry about and will probably go away by itself soon.

There are many reasons for a tingling tongue. One possibility is a condition known as primary Raynaud’s phenomenon, a disorder that usually affects the blood flow to your fingers, toes, and less often to your lips and tongue. When your tongue gets cold or you’re under stress, the small arteries and veins that carry blood to it get narrower. In primary Raynaud’s phenomenon, this reaction is exaggerated and the blood flow to the area is temporarily reduced. This causes your tongue to change color and look blue, very red, or very pale. During or after the episode, your tongue may tingle for a short time.

Primary Raynaud’s can be annoying, but it’s not dangerous. There’s no known cause and it doesn’t mean you have a serious health problem. If you have tongue symptoms, they will almost always go away if you drink something warm or relax to relieve your stress.

Primary Raynaud’s usually causes repeat episodes. If you notice color changes to your tongue that are temporary, take a picture to share with your doctor so that they can confirm your diagnosis. It’s important to make sure you’re not experiencing secondary Raynaud’s.

Secondary Raynaud’s is a related disorder that causes similar symptoms, but it’s often caused by an underlying health problem with the immune system, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma.

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Seek emergency medical attention

When to get immediate medical help

Sometimes tongue numbness or tingling can be a sign of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs are also known as ministrokes.

Seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms in addition to your tongue tingling:

  • weakness or numbness in the arm, leg, or face or on one side of the body
  • facial droop
  • trouble speaking
  • difficulty understanding or confusion
  • loss of vision
  • dizziness or loss of balance
  • severe headache

TIA symptoms may last only a few minutes, but they’re still serious. A TIA and stroke are medical emergencies. Call your local emergency services immediately if you suspect a TIA or stroke.

Allergic reaction

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction to a food you’ve eaten or a chemical or drug you’ve been exposed to can make your tongue swell, itch, and tingle.

Food allergies happen when your immune system gets confused and thinks that a common food is harmful.

The most common foods to trigger allergies are:

  • eggs
  • peanuts and tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • milk
  • wheat
  • soy

Some adults who are allergic to pollen can get a swollen or tingling tongue from oral allergy syndrome. The allergy makes you react to some common raw fruits and vegetables, such as melon, celery, or peaches. It causes mouth irritation, and can make your mouth, lips, and tongue tingle, swell, or feel irritated. If you notice your mouth or tongue tingling after eating certain foods, avoid that food in the future.

If you experience any of the following, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. These can be signs of a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction:

  • wheezing or trouble breathing
  • hoarseness or throat tightness
  • lip or mouth swelling
  • itching
  • hives
  • difficulty swallowing

Drug allergies can also cause your tongue to swell, itch, and tingle. While antibiotics often cause these reactions, any drug can trigger allergy symptoms. If you have any unusual symptoms after starting a new medication, contact your doctor right away.

Learn more: How to handle a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) »

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Canker sore

Canker sore

Canker sores are small, oval-shaped, shallow sores that can form on or around your tongue, inside your cheeks, or on your gums. Although it’s not exactly clear what causes canker sores, things like minor injuries to your mouth, hormonal changes, viruses, inadequate nutrition, allergies, or food sensitivities all seem to play a role. They’re painful, but they usually go away by themselves in about a week.

While you have a canker sore, avoid spicy, sour, or crunchy foods — they’ll irritate the sore. For pain relief, try rinsing your mouth with a solution of 8 ounces of warm water, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. You could also try applying an over-the-counter remedy such as benzocaine (Anbesol) or Kanka.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood sugar has dropped below a safe level.

People with diabetes can become hypoglycemic if they skip meals or take too much insulin or certain other medications for diabetes.

Although it’s primarily associated with diabetes, anyone can experience this condition.

Other symptoms may include:

  • feeling very shaky, weak, or tired
  • feeling very hungry
  • breaking into a sweat
  • having dizziness
  • being very irritable or tearful
  • feeling confused

Eating or drinking something with sugar in it, such as a piece of candy or some fruit juice, can help return your blood sugar to normal if it’s too low.

Learn more: Dealing with hypoglycemia »

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Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia

In hypocalcemia, the level of calcium in your blood drops far below normal. Although it might cause a tingling in your tongue and lips, you’re likely to experience other symptoms of low calcium first.

This includes:

  • muscle twitches, cramps, and stiffness
  • tingling around the mouth and in fingers and toes
  • dizziness
  • seizures

Hypocalcemia has a lot of possible causes, including:

If you have any of these symptoms or conditions and think hypocalcemia is causing the tingling in your tongue, see your doctor. A simple blood test can diagnose the problem. The symptoms of hypocalcemia usually go away when you correct the underlying problem and start taking calcium supplements.

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Vitamin B deficiency

Vitamin B deficiency

Having low levels of vitamin B-12 or vitamin B-9 (folate) can make your tongue sore and swollen and affect your sense of taste. You might also have a tingling sensation in the tongue and in your hands and feet. At the same time, you may feel very tired all the time, because both of these B vitamins are needed to make red blood cells and keep your nerves healthy. Low levels of these vitamins can lead to anemia.

Vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency are caused by either not enough of these vitamins in your diet or an inability to absorb these vitamins from your food. Your stomach becomes less acidic as you get older, so age can be a factor.

Some medications can keep you from absorbing B vitamins. This includes:

Good sources of B-12 include fish, meat, eggs, and dairy. Vegans can become deficient if they aren’t eating fortified foods like soy or nut milk, cereals, breads, or grains, or using nutritional yeast or taking supplements. Good sources of B-9 are found in leafy vegetables, most green vegetables, beans, peanuts, and tomato and orange juice.

Left untreated, vitamin B-12 or folate deficiency can be serious and could cause permanent damage to your nerves. It’s important to get treated as soon as possible. A simple blood test will say if your levels are too low. The treatment usually consists of taking high-dose supplements, but in some cases, you might need weekly vitamin shots instead.

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Migraines

Migraines

The warning symptoms (aura) of a migraine headache can include a tingling sensation in the arms, face, lips, and tongue.

Other aura symptoms can include dizziness and visual disturbances.

This includes:

  • zigzag patterns
  • flashing lights
  • blind spots

Aura symptoms are usually followed by a migraine. When this happens, you have very severe headache on one side of your head, often with nausea and vomiting.

Keep reading: Which migraine treatment is right for you? »

Less common causes

Less common causes

In almost all cases, a tingling sensation in the tongue is caused by a condition that’s easy to diagnose and treat. Some less common conditions, however, can also cause a tingling tongue.

Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome causes a constant feeling of burning or discomfort in the tongue, lips, and mouth.

The symptoms vary from person to person, and can also include:

  • changes in the sense of taste
  • dry mouth
  •  a metallic taste in the mouth

Sometimes burning mouth syndrome can be a sign of a health problem, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency, a yeast infection, or diabetes. But often it has no known cause. Researchers believe it may be linked to problems with the nerves that control the area. Burning mouth syndrome affects about 2 out of 100 people and mostly affects women who are postmenopausal.

The syndrome has no cure, but the symptoms can be helped by avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and spicy foods. Local anesthetics to numb the tongue may also help, as well as medications that help chronic pain.

Hypoparathyroidism

Hypoparathyroidism is rare. It happens when your parathyroid glands stop producing enough parathyroid hormone. There are four parathyroid glands located behind the thyroid gland in the neck. The parathyroid glands control the amount of calcium in your blood.

When your calcium level drops too low, you might have:

  • muscle cramps
  • weakness
  • seizures
  • dizziness
  • tingling in the hands, feet, and face

In some people, the reason is unknown. For most people, one or more of the parathyroid glands stop working because the thyroid gland has been damaged in some way, usually by surgery to remove it or by other neck surgery.

No matter what the cause, the treatment is the same: lifelong supplementation with calcium and vitamin D.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Inflammation causes the messages between the brain and the body to be disrupted, leading to a wide range of symptoms. These include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • trouble walking
  • vision problems

Other common symptoms of MS are tingling and numbness in the face and mouth, body, arms, or legs.

MS is rare, affecting about 400,000 people in the United States. You’re more likely to develop MS if you’re a woman between the ages of 20 and 40, but men get it as well, as do younger and older people. MS is caused by the body’s immune system attacking the nerves and their protective covering known as myelin. Currently, there is no known cure, but a variety of medications can help control many of the symptoms.

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See your doctor

When to see your doctor

Tingling or numbness in the tongue that comes on suddenly and also affects your face, arm, or leg on one side could be a sign of a stroke. Facial droop, trouble walking or talking can also be signs. Any of these symptoms require immediate medical attention — call your local emergency services.

Tingling that only happens now and then or that you can connect to something else, like an allergy or canker sore, should go away by itself. If it continues for more than a few days or becomes very annoying, see your doctor. It’s important to know if the tingling is a minor problem or a symptom of more serious health issues, such as diabetes, a vitamin deficiency, or multiple sclerosis.

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