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What are lie bumps?

Lie bumps are small red or white bumps that appear on the tongue. These bumps can be painful and uncomfortable. Even though they appear quickly, they also typically resolve in several days and often don’t require treatment.

The actual medical name for lie bumps is transient lingual papillitis, but the condition became known as “lie bumps” after the myth that they were caused by telling a lie.

Lie bumps will appear as red or white swollen bumps on the tongue. Some people think they look or feel like pimples. They can be painful, even when you aren’t eating or drinking. Some people experience burning, itching, or tingling sensations on their tongues. Still others have no symptoms or pain aside from the actual bump.

If your lie bumps are accompanied by other symptoms, you may have eruptive lingual papillitis. Eruptive lingual papillitis has the same distinct red or white painful bumps, but it’s possibly caused by a virus. This means it’s contagious. It’s accompanied by swollen glands and fevers and is most common amongst children. It can take up to two weeks to resolve instead of a few days.

Lie bumps are thought to be extremely common, but they’re not well researched. Doctors aren’t entirely sure exactly what causes either type of lie bumps. We do know that they’re more likely to occur in people who eat diets with lots of highly acidic foods (including fruits and vegetables) and sugary foods.

Other possible causes include:

  • peaks in stress, which can cause an inflammatory response
  • trauma, even just from biting the tongue
  • spicy foods
  • gastrointestinal complications, including constipation
  • food allergies

If you have symptoms of lie bumps that haven’t gone away after a week and the bumps are persistent and painful, you can make an appointment to see your doctor or dentist. Children with recurring and painful lie bumps should see their pediatrician.

Your doctor (or dentist) will examine the bumps and will likely diagnose them on appearance alone. If your doctor is unsure if the bump is a lie bump or from a condition like human papillomavirus, they may take a biopsy to test for a differential diagnosis. To do this, your doctor will likely numb the area with a local anesthetic. They’ll then remove a small section of the bump to test and examine under a microscope.

Doctors generally don’t need to do much to treat most cases of transient lingual papillitis.

There are home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available to reduce your symptoms and help the condition resolve faster. These include:

  • rinsing and gargling with salt water
  • brushing your teeth at least twice daily, and using mouthwash to rid the mouth of harmful bacteria
  • avoiding irritating foods (eating blander, smooth foods may be beneficial)
  • taking OTC topical treatments like Zilactin, which cover the bumps like a bandage, protecting them from friction that could irritate them further

While lie bumps are painful, they often resolve fairly soon after they appear without any kind of treatment. Home treatments can help them resolve even faster.

If you’re experiencing regularly recurring lie bumps and avoiding suspected triggers isn’t effective, your doctor or dentist can help you determine other treatment plans that may be more effective for you.