Tongue Problems: Types, Causes, and Diagnosis
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Tongue Problems

Tongue problems

Numerous problems can affect your tongue, such as:

  • pain
  • sores
  • swelling
  • changes in taste
  • changes in color
  • changes in texture

These problems often aren’t serious. However, sometimes your symptoms might occur due to an underlying condition that requires medical treatment.

You can prevent many tongue problems by practicing good oral hygiene. If you are already experiencing tongue problems, some simple home remedies may help relieve your symptoms.

Symptoms of tongue problems

Symptoms

Possible symptoms that you may experience related to your tongue include:

  • a partial or complete loss of taste or changes in your ability to taste sour, salty, bitter, or sweet flavors 
  • difficulty moving your tongue  
  • tongue swelling
  • a change from the normal color of your tongue or patches of color that are white, bright pink, black, or brown
  • pain either all over the tongue or only in certain spots
  • a burning sensation either all over the tongue or only in certain spots
  • white or red patches, which are often painful
  • a furry or hairy appearance of the tongue

Causes of tongue problems

Causes

The specific symptoms you’re experiencing will help your doctor identify the cause of your tongue problem.

Causes of a burning sensation on the tongue

A burning sensation on the tongue may occur in women who are postmenopausal. It can also occur due to exposure to irritants, such as cigarette smoke.

Causes of a change in tongue color

A bright pink color on the tongue is most often due to a deficiency in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B-12. An allergic reaction to gluten can also cause this.

A white tongue is usually a result of smoking, drinking alcohol or poor oral hygiene. White lines or bumps may be an inflammation called oral lichen planus. People think this occurs due to an abnormal immune response that may occur from an underlying condition, such as hepatitis C or allergies.

Causes of a change in tongue texture

If your tongue appears to be furry or hairy, it’s most likely caused by a course of antibiotics. Radiation to the head or neck can also lead to this symptom. It can also develop if you consume too much of an irritating substance, such as coffee or mouthwash, or if you smoke.

Causes of tongue pain

Tongue pain usually occurs due to an injury or infection. If you bite your tongue, you may develop a sore that can last for days and be very painful. A minor infection on the tongue isn’t uncommon, and it can cause pain and irritation. Inflamed papillae, or taste buds, are small, painful bumps that appear after an injury from a bite or irritation from hot foods.

A canker sore is another common cause of pain on or under the tongue. This is a small, white or yellow sore that can occur for no apparent reason. Canker sores, unlike cold sores, don’t occur due to the herpes virus. Some possible causes are mouth injuries, abrasive ingredients in toothpastes or mouthwashes, food allergies or nutritional deficiencies. In many cases, the cause of a canker sore is unknown and referred to as an aphthous ulcer. These sores usually go away without any treatment.

Other, less common reasons for tongue pain include cancer, anemia, oral herpes, and irritating dentures or braces.

Neuralgia can also be a source of tongue pain. This is a very severe pain that occurs along a damaged nerve. Neuralgia occurs for no obvious reason, or it can occur due to:

  • aging
  • multiple sclerosis
  • diabetes
  • tumors
  • infections

Causes of tongue swelling

A swollen tongue may be a symptom of a disease or medical condition, such as:

  • Down syndrome
  • tongue cancer
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • an overactive thyroid
  • leukemia
  • strep throat
  • anemia

When the tongue swells very suddenly, the likely reason is an allergic reaction. This can result in difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing due to tongue swelling is a medical emergency. If this occurs, you should get medical help right away.

How are tongue problems diagnosed?

Diagnosis

You should make an appointment to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment if your tongue problem is severe, unexplained, or persists for several days with no signs of improvement

You should also see your doctor if you have:

  • larger sores than you’ve previously had
  • recurring or frequent sores
  • recurring or frequent pain
  • a persistent problem lasting greater than two weeks
  • tongue pain that doesn’t improve with over-the-counter pain (OTC) medications or self-care measures
  • tongue problems with a high fever
  • extreme difficulty eating or drinking

During your appointment, your doctor will thoroughly examine your tongue and ask you several questions about your tongue and your symptoms. They’ll want to know:

  • how long you’ve had the symptoms
  • whether your ability to taste has changed
  • what kind of pain you have
  • if it’s difficult to move your tongue
  • if you have any other issues in your mouth

If your doctor isn’t able to make a diagnosis based on the exam and the answers to your questions, they may order some tests. Most likely, your doctor will want to take a sample of blood to test for or rule out various disorders that could be causing your tongue issues. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will recommend treatments for your specific problem.

Home care for tongue problems

home treatment

You can prevent or relieve some tongue problems by practicing good dental hygiene. Brush and floss regularly, and see your dentist for routine checkups and cleanings.

Remedy for canker sores or sores due to mouth injury

If you have a canker sore or a sore that occurs due to a mouth injury, you should do the following:

  • Avoid hot and spicy foods.
  • Try to drink only cold beverages and eat only bland, soft foods until the sore has healed.
  • You may also try OTC oral pain treatments.
  • You can rinse your mouth with warm saltwater or a mixture of warm water and baking soda.
  • You can ice the sore.

Call your doctor if you don’t see any improvement in the next two to three weeks.

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