Swollen tongue can be a painful condition which can be caused by a variety of medical issues and disorders. The normal causes of a tongue swelling include infections, allergies, injuries, metabolic disorders, genetic problems or any other abnormal issue. These issues normally cause either a certain part of the tongue or the whole tongue to get enlarged. Normally, a swollen tongue isn’t a severe issue. However, a swollen tongue can be indicative of a more serious condition. Thus, it’s best to contact your doctor if you see swelling over your tongue. 

Part 1: What Are the Possible Causes of Swollen Tongue?


The most common causes

  • Eating very hot food or drinking very hot beverages

  • Smoking tobacco

  • Heavy alcohol usage

  • In-take of spicy food items

  • Accidentally biting your own tongue

  • Use of braces

  • Tongue piercing which can end up causing an infection that would cause the tongue to swell


Various infections

These infections include:

  • Syphilis

  • Strep infection

  • Herpes

  • Fungal infections like thrush


Allergic reactions

They are actually the most commonly known cause of a swollen tongue. Allergies that can result in tongue swelling include:

  • A bite from an insect or a sting from a bee

  • An allergic reaction to a medicine or drug like penicillin/codeine

  • Allergic reaction to certain food items or ingredients present within food items

  • Anaphylactic reaction (an allergic reaction which often is serious and severe)


Other causes of swollen tongue

  • Acromegaly which is the name of a hormonal disorder. The condition makes the body produce excessive growth hormone which results in the body tissues getting enlarged.

  • Genetic disorders like the Down syndrome

  • Hypothyroidism (a thyroid that is not as active as it should be)

  • Pituitary gland problem

  • Tongue cancer (over 10,000 cases of tongue cancer are reported annually in the US and they can be treated successfully if diagnosed early)

  • Pernicious anemia which is the name of a condition which causes the red blood cell levels to drop as the body fails to absorb Vitamin B12

  • Angioedema which causes a drastic increase in swelling of the mucosal tissue and the submucosal tissue. The condition is considered very severe and is normally hereditary. Angioedema can also be caused as a reaction to or a side-effect of hypertensive medicines. 

  • Swelling and inflammation of the taste buds is caused by lingual papilitis. It also causes the taste buds to turn red. The condition ends up causing the tongue to swell, especially during the night time. 

Part 2: Symptoms Associated with Swollen Tongue

The symptoms of the condition normally depend on the cause. The cause dictates the kind of symptoms that the patient with experience along with the swollen tongue. The most widely known symptoms of tongue swelling, irrespective of the cause responsible for it, include:

  • Tongue lesions

  • Problems while talking, drinking water or any other beverages, chewing or swallowing food 

  • Mouth soreness or pain in the tongue

  • A burning sensation in the mouth or tongue

  •  A difference in the tongue’s texture like it starts to feel smoother (departure from the normal tongue texture).

  • A difference in the tongue’s color (turning dark)

  • High fever

  • Severe headache

  • Bleeding from the tongue

If the tongue swelling is caused by an allergic reaction, the symptoms would include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Coughing

  • Diarrhea

  • Sneezing

  • Vomiting

If the swollen tongue is indicative of a life-threatening disease or problem, the symptoms would include:

  • Blood with the cough

  • Problems in swallowing anything

  • Tightness in the throat

  • Severe rashes

  • Irritation in the throat and mouth

  • Nausea

Part 3: How to Treat Swollen Tongue

Tongue swelling often leads to issues with breathing and thus, it should be treated immediately. The treatment normally depends on the amount of swelling and the cause which is behind the swelling. In emergency cases where the swelling is severe, epinephrine is administered to bring relief. However, epinephrine only works in certain cases only. Normally, everyone who suffers from a swollen tongue is given antibiotics and steroids with further course of action decided on the basis of how the patient responds to them.

For allergies

If the cause of the tongue swelling is any food-borne allergy then the patient must stop the use of all such food items. Epinephrine helps a lot in cases of allergies and thus, anyone who has suffered from a swollen tongue before should keep an epinephrine injection with them at all times so as to get relief if their tongue starts to swell at any given point.

For reaction from drugs

If the cause of the swelling is any drug that you take regularly then the patient must stop the use of the drug and ask the doctor for an alternative drug. In case the swelling is caused because of an infection then antibiotics would normally work and put an end to the infection causing the swelling.

Home remedies

Home remedies can also prove helpful in keeping the pain down. The use of a soft toothbrush to brush the tongue is a home remedy that can bring pain relief. Putting some sugar over the swollen tongue can also bring pain relief.

However, it’s best to immediately visit a hospital when you tongue starts to swell while it’s also recommended to contact your doctor even if the swelling goes away with treatment so as to know what caused the swelling in the first place. 

Watch this video to learn what an acutely-swollen tongue can indicate. Your tongue can reveal about vitamin deficiencies and canker sores and more:


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