Why Is My Tongue Swollen?

May 27, 2022

Why Is My Tongue Swollen?

6 minute read

Ever feel like your tongue is blowing up like a balloon inside your mouth? Does it feel like you’re talking funny? This is probably a sign that your tongue is swelling.

A swollen tongue can result from all sorts of things, inside and out. So let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of a swollen tongue, as well as some simple tips and tricks for reducing the swelling and enhancing your comfort.

What Are the Symptoms of Tongue Swelling?

Swelling is another term for inflammation, which is the process in which a part of the body becomes reddened, hot, and often enlarged as a reaction to an injury or condition. It happens when white blood cells hang around an area to prevent further damage.

A swollen tongue can feel and look different depending on the cause, but it often looks something like this:

  • Pain, soreness, or tenderness on the tongue
  • Difficulty chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Changes in tongue color
  • Smooth appearance to the surface of the tongue

In most circumstances, a swollen tongue just sort of looks and feels a little funny, and it often goes away in just a short amount of time. However, a swollen tongue can block airways and cause difficulty breathing in severe circumstances.

This is often indicative of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis occurs when the body goes into shock, causing the immune system to release a flood of chemicals that make blood pressure dip, airways narrow, and heart rate increase rapidly.

If you ever have trouble breathing or experience any of these symptoms, contact emergency medical assistance right away.

What Are Common Causes of a Swollen Tongue?

There are many different reasons that your tongue might start swelling up. Let’s take a look at some of the most common.

Allergic Reactions

Probably the most common cause of a swollen tongue is an allergic reaction. Loads of people might take a bite out of mango or eat some peanut m&ms and then experience some swelling in their mouths. This results from the immune system working to protect the body from harm.

Your immune system is like a defensive shield inside your body that protects it from foreign invaders. And while it's perfect when it’s helping you avoid bacterial infections or the common cold, it can be frustrating when it makes you sneeze and wheeze because of something as simple as pollen or dust particles.

However, some people have antibodies in their blood known as immunoglobulin E or IgE. These react with proteins found in certain substances, leading to an allergic reaction. The more IgE in your bloodstream, the more intense the reaction might be.

This reaction causes the release of a chemical called histamine. Histamines are responsible for many symptoms that you’d associate with allergies, such as runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and even a swollen tongue. The reason for this is that the swelling is the body’s way of physically blocking other substances from being able to enter.

Swollen tongues can occur from any type of allergic reaction, though it’s more common with food allergies. The swelling generally goes away once you remove yourself from the allergy trigger in minor cases.

However, you might need to try using some antihistamine medications to block its effects.

If you suspect you may be having a severe allergic reaction to food, seek emergency medical attention and administer a shot of epinephrine.

Angioedema

Angioedema is a vowel-filled word that refers to swelling underneath the skin. An allergic reaction often causes this, and it is always best to consult your healthcare provider for advice. Angioedema can occur in any part of the body, but it’s most common in the face, nose, or throat.

While allergies can cause it, this type of swelling tends to occur after taking certain medications. However, it can even occur due to a genetic condition called hereditary angiodema. This is a rare, lifelong condition that can be managed with the help of an allergist.

Some people even get angioedema without a clear cause. This is known as idiopathic angioedema. If you don’t know what’s causing your swelling, you’ll want to speak with your doctor.

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid is a gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam’s apple. Its purpose in the body is to control metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a condition where there isn’t enough thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. This can cause the metabolism to slow.

Also known as underactive thyroid disease, this is a fairly common condition that can have full-body effects. Primary causes of hypothyroidism include thyroiditis (inflammation) and iodine deficiencies. However, Hashimoto’s disease is perhaps the most common cause. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid to produce fewer hormones.

Among other symptoms like fatigue, numbness in the hands, weight gain, constipation, or decreased sexual interest, this condition can also lead to swelling in the throat or tongue. It’s a manageable disease that usually requires medication to replace the hormone that is no longer being created naturally. However, it is often chronic and will require medication throughout life. If you suspect you may be dealing with thyroid issues, consult your doctor for evaluation.

Salivary Duct Stones

Salivary stones, also called sialolithiasis, are mineral deposits that have hardened in the salivary glands. They are most likely to affect people between ages 30 and 60, and they’re more common in men.

The direct cause is unknown, but dehydration, trauma to the inside of the mouth, smoking, and gum disease can all play a role. These deposits can cause pain or swelling in the salivary glands, which can make it appear as if the tongue itself is swollen. Symptoms might come and go over a few weeks. If stones are not removed promptly, they may grow and eventually become infected.

You can remove most stones by applying heat and gentle massages to the salivary glands. Staying well-hydrated can also play an essential role in preventing damage. If need be, anti-inflammatory medications from a doctor or dentist might help reduce swelling and hopefully dislodge the stones to help reduce persistent symptoms.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is a common condition, and it’s pretty much just a fancy term for gum disease. Gingivitis is typically the result of poor oral hygiene. When you go to the dentist and they bug you about brushing your teeth, it’s mostly because they don’t want you to end up with this condition.

Symptoms of gingivitis typically present as swollen or puffy gums, bad breath, bleeding when you brush or floss, receding gums, or tender gums. However, gingivitis associated with vitamin deficiency can sometimes lead to inflammation of the tongue.

Sometimes, gum disease can cause the throat or lymph nodes to become swollen, which can feel like your tongue is swollen even when it isn’t.

Use of an ACE Inhibitor

An ACE inhibitor is short for angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. An ACE inhibitor is commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure and other heart problems. They help relax the veins and arteries by preventing an enzyme from creating angiotensin II, which can narrow blood vessels.

Common side effects of ACE inhibitors include fatigue, dry cough, increased potassium levels in the blood, blood pressure dropping, loss of taste, and headaches. However, in rare cases, these medications can cause the tongue and throat to swell, which can affect breathing.

If you experience swelling of any kind from using an ACE inhibitor, you should stop using it and speak to your doctor.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is a disorder of the immune system that is typically characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. With this disorder, the immune system attacks its own healthy cells that produce saliva and tears. This attack causes the body to stop producing tears and saliva as often.

A common symptom is swelling in the salivary glands behind the jaw and in front of the ears. While this doesn’t necessarily affect the tongue, it might make you feel like your tongue is swollen if there is swelling in your glands.

Thrush

[Thrush](https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10956-thrush#:~:text=Thrush%20is%20a%20fungal%20(yeast,cause%20mouth%20pain%20and%20redness.) is a fungal or yeast infection that grows in the throat and mouth. Thrush appears in the mouth or on the tongue as white, raised lesions. It is often accompanied by mouth pain and redness.

The good news is that it's usually just a minor problem for healthy people, and it clears up with antifungal treatment. And while it can affect anyone, it is most common in children or older adults with weakened immune systems.

Ingesting Irritants

Your big ol’ tongue might not have anything to do with a disease or a condition in the slightest – it might just be a little bit irritated. Alcohol, tobacco, and spicy foods can all irritate the tongue and cause it to become inflamed.

How Is a Swollen Tongue Diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can do an oral exam to diagnose and evaluate a swollen tongue. In many cases, it’s immediately visible, but in minor cases, a professional might check for papillae, which are fingerlike projections that can be found on the surface of the tongue.

A doctor will likely ask about your health history and recent trauma to the mouth or tongue. This will help them determine the underlying cause.

If there’s not an obvious cause for the symptoms, they might order blood tests to see if there are any other signs that might cause a swollen tongue as mentioned above.

How Can You Ease a Swollen Tongue?

Treatment of a swollen tongue is super dependent on the reason for the swelling in the first place. But let’s take a look at some of the most effective methods for some of the more common causes.

Antihistamines

As we discussed a bit earlier, antihistamines are your number one defense against allergy triggers. They help reduce the effects of histamine, which is the chemical that leads to most of the symptoms you’d associate with allergies.

But antihistamines do a lot more than just reducing swelling on your tongue. They can also help stop itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, cough, sneezing, and all those other nasty symptoms.

But what if you could avoid these symptoms from happening in the first place? Allergy immunotherapy (AIT) is a one-of-a-kind allergy treatment that builds up your immune system’s tolerance to help lessen, and eventually prevent, allergy symptoms.

And through Cleared, you can gain access to sublingual immunotherapy, which requires nothing more than a pill underneath your tongue over an extended period of time.

To join millions who are finally living a clearer life, take your free online consultation.

Anti-Inflammatories

Anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil, are often used to help alleviate pain. However, these over-the-counter remedies may also be able to help bring down the swelling in pretty much any part of the body.

These medications work by blocking the effect-,How%20do%20anti%2Dinflammatory%20painkillers%20work%3F,sites%20of%20injury%20or%20damage.) of enzymes called COX enzymes, which create the chemicals that lead to inflammation. Reducing them can bring down swelling and make you feel more comfortable holistically.

Antibiotics, Antifungals, Antimicrobials

If your swollen tongue is due to a condition that’s caused by underlying bacteria, fungi, or another substance, a doctor might prescribe you medication to treat the cause. In many cases, if you can eliminate the foreign substance that is causing the inflammation, it will go away on its own.

Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, swelling of the tongue or the throat is a result of smoking or drinking too much alcohol.

As hard as it might be, a doctor might recommend that you ditch those habits for a while. Consult your doctor if you think your swelling may be due to a deficiency, and do not begin a supplement regimen without a doctor’s approval of safety.

Oral Hygiene

Practicing good oral hygiene is another way to reduce symptoms of tongue inflammation, especially those caused by gingivitis. Be sure to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes and floss every day. Use fluoride mouthwash according to the instructions on the bottle.

Additionally, swap out your toothbrush every three months, and be sure to attend your regular dental check-up every six months. If your symptoms worsen or you experience new symptoms, like canker sores or mouth ulcers, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider or dentist.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Most causes of tongue swelling are minor and go away within a few hours. If you’re able to breathe clearly and discomfort is minimal, you probably don’t need to go to the doctor right away. However, if your airway is obstructed or you’re feeling immense pain, seek medical attention right away to ensure you are not experiencing anaphylaxis.

Contact your doctor if your symptoms do not resolve themselves with time or medication after 10 days. If swallowing or chewing becomes difficult, you should also reach out to your doctor.

In Conclusion

A swollen tongue can make it difficult to speak or eat your favorite foods, but in most cases, it’s more of a nuisance than anything. While an allergic reaction is typically the most common cause of a swollen tongue, there are a ton of different reasons why this symptom might be happening.

However, bacterial infections, swelling of the salivary glands, eating spicy foods or consuming alcohol, gingivitis, and using certain medications are other possible causes of inflammation. A doctor can properly diagnose you with visual examinations or blood tests.

Depending on the cause, a doctor can also give you the right treatment. Typically, a swollen tongue clears on its own, but you may be able to take antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, make lifestyle changes, or practice proper oral hygiene to speed up the process.

If you’re still not sure what’s causing your troubles, your online allergist is in. Take your free five-minute consultation with Cleared to meet with an allergist right from the comfort of your own home.

Sources:

Anaphylaxis - Symptoms and causes | The Mayo Clinic.

Angioedema | NHS

Hashimoto's disease - Symptoms and causes | The Mayo Clinic

Hypothyroidism: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Medication | Cleveland Clinic.

Salivary Stones | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Sjogren's syndrome - Symptoms and causes | The Mayo Clinic

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors | The Mayo Clinic

Thrush | Cleveland Clinic

NSAIDs | Patient.info


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