Swelling of the tongue can occur due to inflammation of the tongue, known as glossitis, the presence of abnormal substances (such as amyloid protein) in the tongue, the collection of fluid in the tongue as a result of different disease processes, or tumors (including tongue or other oral cancers) that infiltrate the tissues of the tongue. An enlarged or swollen tongue can also occur as an allergic reaction to medications or other substances. In this case, the swelling is due to fluid accumulation in the tissues of the tongue, medically known as angioedema. A dramatically swollen tongue can lead to breathing problems and may be a medical emergency. Treatment of allergic reactions that include swollen tongue can include epinephrine, antihistamines, and/or steroid medications.
Other causes of swollen tongue
- Bacterial Infection
- Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome
- Congenital Micrognathia
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
10 Fun Facts About Your Tongue and Taste Buds
Is your tongue the strongest muscle in the body? Can you see your taste buds? How long is the average tongue? Learn fun facts...
Picture of Tongue
The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth. See a picture of the Tongue and learn more about the health topic.
Causes of Swollen Tongue
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Amyloidosis is a group of diseases resulting from abnormal deposition of certain proteins (amyloids) in various bodily areas. The amyloid proteins may either be deposited in one particular area of the body (localized amyloidosis) or they may be deposited throughout the body (systemic amyloidosis). There are three types of systemic amyloidosis: primary (AL), secondary (AA), and familial (ATTR). Primary amyloidosis is not associated with any other diseases and is considered a disease entity of its own. Secondary amyloidosis occurs as a result of another illness. Familial Mediterranean Fever is a form of familial (inherited) amyloidosis. Amyloidosis treatment involves treating the underlying illness and correcting organ failure.
Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that affects a number of different areas of the body at one time, and can be fatal. Causes of anaphylaxis can be food allergy, latex allergy, allergy to insect or but stings/bites, asthma, or other materials or conditions. Symptoms include flushing, itching, hives, anxiety, rapid or irregular pulse. Severe symptoms may be throat and tongue swelling, swallowing, and difficulty breathing. Some disorders appear similar to anaphylaxis such as fainting, panic attacks, blood clots in the lungs, heart attacks, and septic shock. If you think that you may be having an anaphylactic reaction, seek emergency care or call 911 immediately.
Bee and Wasp Sting
Bees, wasps, and fire ants are related insects that belong to the Hymenoptera order. There are thousands of species of wasps found throughout the world. Common wasps are yellow jackets and hornets. Types of bees include honey bees, the Africanized honey bee (killer bee), and the bumble bee. There are four types of reactions to a bee or wasp sting; local reaction, systemic allergic reaction, toxic reaction, and delayed reaction. Individuals who have a systemic or toxic reaction generally require immediate medical treatment to prevent anaphylactic reaction, and possibly death.
Burns (First Aid)
Burn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are similar to a painful sunburn. The damage is more severe with second-degree burns, leading to blistering and more intense pain. The skin turns white and loses sensation with third-degree burns. Burn treatment depends upon the burn location, total burn area, and intensity of the burn.
The most common food allergies are to eggs, nuts, milk, peanuts, fish, shellfish, strawberries and tomatoes. Symptoms and signs of a food allergy reaction include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, itching, hives, eczema, asthma, lightheadedness, and anaphylaxis. Allergy skin tests, RAST, and ELISA tests may be used to diagnose a food allergy. Though dietary avoidance may be sufficient treatment for mild allergies, the use of an Epipen may be necessary for severe food allergies.
Hives (Urticaria & Angioedema)
Hives, also called urticaria, is a raised, itchy area of skin that is usually a sign of an allergic reaction. The allergy may be to food or medications, but usually the cause of the allergy (the allergen) is unknown.
Multiple myeloma is a form of cancer that develops in plasma cells, the white blood cells that make antibodies. Symptoms include bone pain, weakness, extreme thirst, nausea, frequent urination, and broken bones. Treatment of multiple myeloma depends upon the staging and symptoms of the disease.
The term oral cancer includes cancer of the mouth (oral cavity) and the back of the mouth (oropharynx). Red and white patches inside the mouth, bleeding, loose teeth, pain upon swallowing, a lump in the neck, earache, and a sore on your lip or in your mouth that won't heal are all symptoms of oral cancer. Treatment for oral cancer depends upon the staging of the disease and usually involves surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
Pernicious anemia is a blood disorder in which the body does not make enough red blood cells due to a lack of vitamin B12 in the blood. Pernicious anemia can develop from a lack of a protein that helps the body absorb vitamin B12, not getting enough B12 in the diet, and certain intestinal conditions that interfere with the absorption of vitamin B12 such as Crohn's disease, celiac sprue, or ulcerative colitis. There is no cure for pernicious anemia, thus treatment is life-long.
There are a variety of diseases and conditions that can cause tongue problems, discoloration, and soreness. Though most tongue problems are not serious. Conditions such as leukoplakia, oral thrush, and oral lichen planus may cause a white tongue while Kawasaki syndrome, scarlet fever, and geographic tongue may cause the tongue to appear red. A black hairy tongue may be caused by overgrown papillae on the tongue. Canker sores, smoking, and trauma may cause soreness of the tongue.
What Does It Mean When You Have Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue?
Getting bumps on the back of your tongue is common and usually harmless, but they can be a sign of an underlying issue. Learn the signs to look out for, how to treat them, and when to see a doctor.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter