Tongue Swelling Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Piercing, under & One Side

by Annie Shuler

Why is my tongue swollen? What causes tongue swelling on one side, with teeth marks, and sore throat? Discover swollen tongue treatments, medications and remedies for various causes including trauma, allergies, disease and infections, dehydration, cold sores, amyloidosis, tongue cancer, yeast infection, swollen tongue thyroid, glossitis, angioedema among others.

Your tongue is mainly made up of structured muscular cell layer often known as epithelium. It’s surface is covered with taste buds whose role is to differentiate different tastes such as salty, bitter, and sweet and so on.

What is a swollen tongue?

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A swollen tongue refers to a condition where a part (e.g. one side, the tip or the back of your tongue) or your entire tongue becomes enlarged, distended or bloated.  You may have a slightly swollen tongue or a severe one 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 (swollen tongue papillae), gums, mouth and even lips, depending on what causes the swelling.

Swelling that does not last long should not worry you because 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 tongue swelling is accompanied with some symptoms we will mention later, it might be a life threatening problem that needs medical emergency.

Swollen tongue symptoms and signs to expect when a tongue feels swollen

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Swelling the main symptoms you expect to have. If your tongue feels swollen some of the common symptoms and you may have include:

  • Chewing, swallowing and speaking difficulties
  • Tongue color changes where it might be red or pale.
  • Blocked airways in case of a severe tongue swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes under your mandible and chin region.
  • Swollen tongue with bumps, ulcers or lesions on your tongue
  • Tongue pain, mouth pain or burning sensation
  • General edema
  • Fever and headache
  • Tongue texture might change
  • Blood in case of trauma
  • Sore and tender tongue
  • Lip swelling
  • Throat swelling
  • Swollen tongue papillae

There are many other tongue swelling 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 of tongue swelling might have very similar signs. It is good to go for differential diagnosis of swollen tongue if they persist for a long time to determine the exact cause.

Swollen tongue causes, why is my tongue swollen or reasons

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There are many causes and reasons which might make your tongue to feel swollen. Some of the most common causes include the following:

Trauma and injuries

A fairly common swollen tongue cause is injuries and trauma that include burns (from hot liquids and foods), biting your tongue, irritation and injuries from dental appliances, surgical procedures, tongue piercing, among others. Furthermore, chewing tobacco is known to irritate and cause tongue swelling.

Some conditions such as epilepsy might cause biting  your tongue i.e. bitten swollen tongue seizures as the patients tries to stop airway blockage due to tongue swallowing during the attack.

Swollen tongue allergy

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Allergies are also a common enlarged tongue 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 a 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.

Diseases and conditions

There are a number of diseases and conditions that can result to tongue swelling which you need to know. The common ones to look out for include the following:

1. Amyloidosis

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If you have a slowly swelling tongue 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” and your tongue will keep on becoming bigger.

2. Tongue cancer

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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 of tongue cancer 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, tongue cancer is painful and leaves persistent tongue lesions 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

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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 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 tongue ulcers and swelling.

4. Fungal and yeast infection

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Mouth fungal and yeast infection is another possible cause of tongue swelling. Fungal infections will tend to be common for people who have to take antibiotics courses regularly. For people who have immunity 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. Swollen tongue thyroid or hypothyroidism

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Hypothyroidism also 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 to 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 tongue cancer checkup.

6. Scarlet fever

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This is a bacterial infection that will make the tongue 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 Tongue inflammation

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This “is a problem in which the tongue is swollen and changes color, often making the surface of the tongue appear smooth.” It could be a symptoms of other conditions such as allergic reactions, injuries, 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 way to deal with glossitis.

8. Angioedema

This refers to the rapid swelling of “dermis, subcutaneous tissue, mucosa and submucosal tissues”. It is much similar to hives but hives occur on the upper dermis. It can caused by allergies, hereditary factors or through use of some drugs. It can cause mouth, tongue and throat swelling rapidly and it affect other areas of the body.

9. Other diseases and conditions that can cause a swollen tongue:

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Going on with what causes a swollen tongue, still under diseases and conditions, the below diseases and conditions have also been associated with tongue swelling:

  • Tongue sores which are caused by mainly viruses such as herpangina
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Strep infection
  • Hives
  • Syphilis
  • Pituitary gland problems
  • Rhabdomyolosis
  • Oral neurofibroma especially neurofibromatosis type 1
  • Sarcoma
  • Tooth decay or aches
  • Leukemia

Swollen tongue dehydration

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Going on with causes of tongue swelling, 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 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 swollen tongue dehydration since if it becomes acute, it can cause death.

Other causes of tongue swelling

There are many other general reasons for tongue swelling 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, B3 and B12

Swollen under tongue or swollen glands under tongue

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In case you have swollen under tongue, swollen back of tongue or the back of your tongue swollen, this is indicates a problem with your salivary glands.  You could swollen back of the tongue with pain, no pain, with the chin swollen too, on one side, and so on.

Swollen glands under tongue I s caused by 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.

Swollen tongue one side, left side or right side

Having swollen tongue on one side i.e. on 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, tongue 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 tongue swelling?

Finally allergic reactions and angioedema can also cause left or right side tongue swelling. Do not be surprised if the swelling is on the tip of your tongue.

Swollen tongue piercing

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Immediately after a tongue piercing, you can experience some swelling. This swollen pierced tongue will disappear after a few days. However, in case of tongue piercing infection or tongue piercing 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 tongue piercing swelling you need to be aware of. See more detail on tongue piercing infection.

Baby swollen tongue

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Baby swollen tongue can be caused by any of the causes we have discussed that include diseases and conditions, allergies, trauma, inflamed papillae, dehydration among others.

Swollen tongue teeth marks

Sometimes, you might have 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 with 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.

Swollen tongue sore throat

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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 this symptoms. When caused by allergic reactions, you might have other symptoms such as breathing difficulties, rashes, hives and sneezing.

If tongue swelling and throat is caused by mononucleosis (kissing disease) which spreads via saliva or tears, you will be feeling extremely fatigue, have fever in addition to a swollen tongue and sore throat. Being a viral infection, you can only take medicines to reduce the symptoms you have.

Finally, if it tongue cancer, you expect the symptoms we already discussed in addition to ear pain or aches, white patches on tongue, swollen glands, and swollen lymph nodes, red patches on tongue, numbness, pain and bleeding. A lump is also probable.

Swollen tongue treatment, cure, remedies and medications

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Swollen tongue 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 for swollen tongue and cures while bearing in mind the cause. So, how do you treat a tongue swelling?

Treating swollen tongue due to allergies

Once you determine your tongue swelling 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

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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 a 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 tongue swelling

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.

Swollen tongue remedies at home, reduce or bring down

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To help get rid of a swollen tongue, 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 your tongue gently
  • Put sugar on top of the swelling can help bring down the swelling
  • Gargling dilute turmeric solution (water and turmeric powder) can reduce inflammation and bring down swelling. You can also gargle alcohol free mouthwashes or sea salt rise (1bsp on 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 easy your swelling
  • Placing cold spoons on your tongue or ice cubes can help reduce tongue swelling
  • Another way to cure a swollen tongue is using mint, aniseeds and rosemary mouthwash. Soak mint, rosemary, aniseeds in a water bowl, strain it in the morning and use it as a mouth wash.
  • There are a number of herbal Chinese medicines that might also help.

When to see a doctor

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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 persistent swollen tongue that lasts beyond 2 weeks.

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