What are bumps on the back of your tongue?

The tongue is covered with small bumps called papillae, which contain your taste buds. They give the tongue its rough texture, and sometimes they become inflamed. When they do, painful blisters emerge on the surface of the tongue, making it uncomfortable to eat or talk. 

Many factors can cause tongue bumps, but often they pose no danger and can be easily treated.

Tongue bumps are elevated areas on the surface of the tongue. They appear for many reasons and occur when the papillae become irritated.

Main symptoms

Tongue bumps show up as sores or blisters. Other symptoms are pain and a burning sensation on the tongue, as well as difficulty speaking or eating. 

Main causes

The most common causes of tongue bumps include:

  • Eating extremely hot or cold foods 
  • Eating highly acidic or spicy foods 
  • Biting or injuring your tongue 
  • Acid reflux 
  • Stress 

In most cases, these sores prove to be nothing more than a nuisance. However, if they persist, they may be an indicator of the following conditions: 

Canker sores

Canker sores are grayish, elevated ulcers surrounded by a red border that appear on the surface of the mouth and tongue. They differ from cold sores in that canker sores are found on the inside of the mouth and under the tongue and cannot be spread from person to person. Stress, fatigue, and illness are some of the known underlying causes of canker sores, although their exact cause is unknown. 

Anaphylaxis

People with severe allergies may go into anaphylaxis when exposed to substances to which they are sensitive. When this happens, bumps may appear on the tongue, along with swelling and hives. Other symptoms include a rash, itchiness, and difficulty breathing. If you experience anaphylaxis, get medical attention promptly. 

Eruptive lingual papillitis

You may find that large clusters of inflamed bumps appear on your tongue occasionally and then go away. This is called eruptive lingual papillitis, more commonly known as lie bumps. This condition is accompanied by swollen glands and fever

While lie bumps are believed to be contagious and stem from a virus, the exact cause is still unknown.

Oral cancer

Approximately 53,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year, with twice as many men being diagnosed as women. It’s unlikely that the bumps on your tongue are a sign of oral cancer, but the possibility does exist. 

If a bump is growing on the side of the tongue rather than on top, or if it’s hard and painless, it could be cancerous. If your tongue bumps persist for more than two weeks and are located on the side of your tongue, talk to your doctor. 

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Who can get tongue bumps?

While anyone can get bumps on their tongue, several things can increase the probability of developing them. People who eat foods that are more apt to cause trauma to the tongue are more prone to these blisters. Tongue bumps may also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. 

Diagnosis for bumps on the back of your tongue

Tongue bumps often present themselves as reddish-white, raised areas on the middle or back of the tongue — though they may emerge on the side or front, too. If they're infected, they may also be a yellowish color. In many cases, tongue bumps cause a burning sensation in the mouth and make eating and talking quite painful. A doctor can usually diagnose tongue bumps based on a visual examination and your symptoms. 

Treatments for bumps on the back of your tongue

Because they’re normally nothing more than a minor hassle, tongue bumps can usually be treated with ease. Treatments include:

Medications 

If your tongue is infected, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. Oral gels can help soothe the pain of your tongue bumps and are sold over the counter in most pharmacies. 

Home care 

For a simple home solution, try the following: 

  • Gargle with a saltwater or baking soda solution. 
  • Rinse with non-alcoholic mouthwash. 
  • Quit smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Stay hydrated. 
  • Avoid acidic or spicy foods. 

Most of the time, it isn’t necessary to see a doctor about your tongue bumps, as they will probably go away within a few days. Some infections may last longer, so talk to your doctor if your tongue bumps persist for more than a week. 

Surgery

If bumps continue to reappear, your doctor may order a blood test to determine the cause, and they may remove the bumps if they suspect cancer.

Side effects of treatments for bumps on the back of your tongue

Most treatments for tongue bumps involve simple home remedies that don’t have any specific side effects or risks. Rinsing your mouth with a mouthwash containing alcohol, however, may aggravate your tongue bumps. 

Oral numbing medications are generally considered to be safe, but animal studies have shown these medications to present risks to a fetus. These medications may also cause side effects such as headaches, shortness of breath, or an abnormal heartbeat if not used properly.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/26/2021
References
American College of Medical Toxicology: “Benzocaine Topical Products.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Canker Sores.”

Cedars-Sinai: "Tongue Cancer."

Harvard Health: “Anaphylaxis: An overwhelming allergic reaction.”

Mayo Clinic: “Canker Sore.”

Merck Manual: “Tongue Sores and Bumps.”

Pacific Neuroscience Institute: "Swollen Taste Buds: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments."

Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal: “Impact of Fungiform Papillae Count on Taste Perception and Different Methods of Taste Assessment and their Clinical Applications.”

The British Journal of Dermatology: "Eruptive lingual papillitis with household transmission: a prospective clinical study."

The Oral Cancer Foundation: "Oral Cancer Facts."

University of Florida Health: “Tongue problems.”