Most people will experience tongue bleeding from time to time. That’s because the location of your tongue makes it vulnerable to injury.
Your tongue can be injured by many things, such as:
- biting it
- broken teeth
- radiation therapy
- sharp foods
Usually, a little bleeding is nothing to be concerned about. But there are other reasons why your tongue might bleed. While most aren’t serious, some symptoms should be watched and may require a visit to your doctor.
Health conditions that can cause your tongue to bleed run the gamut from minor issues that heal by themselves to conditions that require medical treatment.
Fungal infections, such as candidiasis or thrush, are common.
Thrush is most often seen in babies, people with illnesses that affect their immune system, and people taking antibiotics.
Thrush and other oral yeast infections cause painful white or yellow-white spots or open sores in the mouth and the back of the throat. They can interfere with eating and swallowing.
Under most circumstances, thrush isn’t serious. But a doctor should be notified when infants and people with compromised immune systems show symptoms of the condition.
Oral fungal infections are usually diagnosed by visual examination.
Antifungal creams are used to treat thrush and other fungal infections. If the infection is more widespread, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medications.
Oral herpes is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Most cases of oral herpes are from HSV-1, commonly referred to as oral herpes.
While HSV-2 or genital herpes, is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, HSV-1 can sometimes be transmitted through sharing towels, drinking glasses, forks, etc.
Oral herpes spreads by oral contact, usually through kissing or oral sex. You can also get it from contact with objects shared with a person who has an active case of herpes.
Between 50 and 80 percent of adult Americans have oral herpes.
Viral shedding can occur on inanimate objects which as towels, glasses, and forks, and transmission can occur if these items are shared.
Oral herpes goes through periods of dormancy and activation. The virus is most contagious during the active phase when blisters are present.
Symptoms of oral herpes include:
- redness and pain
- rash or fluid-filled blisters that break open and become sores
- clusters of blisters that grow together, forming a large lesion
- itching, tingling, or burning sensation on or in the mouth
Oral herpes can be difficult to diagnose because it often looks like other conditions.
Although some doctors may diagnose herpes by visual examination, it’s more reliably diagnosed by taking a virus culture.
Oral herpes can’t be cured, but medication can help control the symptoms. Medication can also lengthen how long the condition is dormant.
Oral antiviral medications and topical creams, like docosanol (Abreva), are the primary treatment for oral herpes.
Bleeding from the tongue can be caused by malformations of blood vessels, called hemangiomas. It also can happen because of lymph system abnormalities, such as lymphangiomas and cystic hygromas.
These conditions are often found on the head and neck — and in the mouth.
In most cases, babies are born with these conditions. About
Scientists believe they’re caused by an error in the development of the vascular system. More rarely, they occur because of an injury to women during pregnancy.
Malformations of blood vessels and lymph system abnormalities are diagnosed by visual examination.
Despite the alarming sound of their names, these tumors and lesions are almost never dangerous or cancerous. They usually don’t cause discomfort. If they’re not unsightly or troublesome, they don’t require treatment.
When they do, doctors may prescribe steroids or remove them surgically.
Mouth ulcers are also called stomatitis or canker sores. They’re small, white sores that appear in your mouth, including on the tongue. Though they can be painful, they’re rarely cause for alarm.
Sometimes, larger ulcers with red, circular edges can appear. These can be more painful and harder to get rid of.
Mouth ulcers normally clear up without treatment within a couple of weeks. For relief of symptoms, your pharmacist can recommend over-the-counter mouthwashes and lozenges.
Oral and oropharyngeal cancers often begin as a single mouth ulcer that doesn’t heal. Over time, the ulcer expands and may become hard. These ulcers can be painful and may bleed.
Cancer on the top of the tongue is oral cancer, or cancer of the mouth. If cancer is on the underside of the tongue, it’s considered an oropharyngeal cancer, which is a cancer of the middle throat.
When caught and treated early, these cancers can often be cured.
Some conditions and lifestyle choices place you at greater risk of getting oral or oropharyngeal cancer:
- smoking or chewing tobacco
- regular heavy drinking
- having certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV)
- having AIDS or HIV
Oral and oropharyngeal cancers are usually diagnosed via biopsy of the affected tissue. If the biopsy reveals cancer, your doctor will conduct further tests to determine if the cancer has spread.
These may include:
- an endoscopy or nasoendoscopy, which lets the doctor look more closely at your throat and airways
- imaging tests such as X-rays, computed tomography (CAT or CT scan), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Treatment options for these cancers may include:
- surgery to remove the tumor and other areas where the cancer has spread
- radiation therapy, which destroys cancer cells
- chemotherapy, which uses drugs to destroy cancer cells
Home remedies may not cure whatever condition is causing your tongue to bleed, but they can provide relief.
Here are some tips to ease a bleeding tongue:
- Place ice wrapped in gauze or a clean washcloth on the sore or wound and apply gentle pressure until the bleeding stops. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly first.
- Eat yogurt with live and active cultures (check the label!). These can help restore healthy levels of bacteria in your system. The yogurt may also help boost your immune system and aid in digestion.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt or baking soda to a cup of warm water and use it to rinse your mouth out several times per day.
- Gargle several times per day with antiseptic mouthwash or a mix of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water.
- If you have canker sores, dab them with milk of magnesia several times per day.
- Eat popsicles and sip cool water through a straw to help relieve symptoms.
- Avoid acidic and very spicy foods, which can irritate lesions on your tongue and trigger canker sores.
- Avoid very hot food and water.
Although mouth ulcers are rarely serious, see your doctor if you continue getting them.
If you have a mouth ulcer that lasts longer than 3 weeks, you should ask your doctor to take a look, as well. Let your doctor know if you have continuing pain or if the wound develops pus or odors.
Although the causes of bleeding from your tongue vary, there are general guidelines that will help prevent many conditions.
Follow these tips:
- Maintain good oral health by visiting your dentist regularly and brushing your teeth as instructed.
- If you wear dentures, clean them every day as directed by your dentist.
- Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol use.
Most of the conditions that cause your tongue to bleed don’t pose a lasting threat to your health. However, it’s important to see your doctor if you have symptoms that don’t improve or if you have symptoms of oral cancer.