Swollen tongue: 8 reasons you need to watch out

Tongue swelling is a form of angioedema. Depending on the cause of the swelling, this may be accompanied by a red tongue, sore tongue, or other symptoms.

Tongue swelling is not usually an emergency treatment. However, if the tongue bulges rapidly, leading to difficulty breathing, it could be a sign of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal condition.

In addition, a swollen tongue can be caused by an infection, injury, or even a side effect of certain medications.

Common symptoms of tongue swelling

Swelling can occur on one or both sides of the tongue depending on what's causing it. Tongue swelling will make breathing difficult. So, when you see this part suddenly swell (with or without pain), you should go to the hospital to have it checked immediately.

Swollen tongue: 8 causes you need to watch out for • SignsSymptomsList.com

In mild cases, a swollen tongue will interfere with eating or talking. Besides, it also affects your taste buds, changing the taste of food in the oral cavity.

A short-term severe swelling of the tongue can be a sign of anaphylaxis. At this time, it may be accompanied by facial swelling, purple lips, hives, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting.

8 causes of tongue swelling

A swollen tongue can have many different causes, including:


Food allergies and chemical allergies are the leading causes of tongue swelling. Swollen tongue due to allergies is usually not too serious. However, if the swelling is the result of anaphylaxis, it can be life-threatening. Therefore, you should call 911 or go to the hospital right away if your tongue swelling is accompanied by difficulty breathing, drooling, or difficulty swallowing.

Allergy symptoms usually begin within minutes or hours of exposure to an allergen (such as peanuts, milk, eggs, sesame seeds, fish, shellfish, etc.). Besides, there are also many cases of patients being allergic to fragrances, dyes and chemical additives in toothpaste, mouthwash, face wash and other oral care products.

Swollen tongue due to drugs

Besides food allergies, reactions to medications are also the most common cause of angioedema of the face, lips, and tongue. Most cases of swelling are caused by the patient being allergic to the drug being used. However, a reaction can also occur because the body releases too much bradykinin (a substance that dilates blood vessels but causes swelling if overproduced).

Swollen tongue: 8 causes you need to watch out for • SignsSymptomsList.com

In addition, certain medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, antidepressants, or drugs for high cholesterol can cause angioedema as a side effect, leading to swelling of the tongue.

Skin problems

Skin problems can also cause mild irritation and swelling of the tongue, including:

  • Autoimmune bullous disease Pemphigus: A dangerous autoimmune disease that can cause mouth sores and blisters
  • Oral lichen planus: Causes a rash on the skin or in the oral cavity
  • Psoriasis of the mouth: Leads to a map of the tongue and cracked tongue, creating a feeling of swelling or discomfort

Tongue injury

Consuming very hot foods or drinks, biting your tongue, or getting a tongue piercing can cause temporary swelling of the tongue. This condition will usually go away within a few days. If your symptoms do not improve or get worse, you should go to the hospital for a check-up.

In some cases, severe trauma or piercing of the mouth can lead to diffuse inflammation and gangrene of the floor of the mouth. This is a serious, potentially fatal condition caused by a completely blocked airway.

Swollen tongue due to infection

The oral cavity is very susceptible to infection, including sexually transmitted infections if an infected person has oral sex. Sores, warts, and swelling in the mouth can result from syphilis, gonorrhea, and HPV, leading to swelling or inflammation of the tongue and nearby tissue.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause chronic irritation in the back of the throat. In some cases, this condition causes the base of the tongue to become affected and swollen.

Swollen tongue: 8 causes you need to watch out for • SignsSymptomsList.com

Sjogren's syndrome

Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease involving the exocrine glands in the body. The most common symptoms of this condition are dry eyes and dry mouth. In addition, the patient may also experience swelling of the tongue when suffering from the syndrome.

Melkersson Rosenthal's Syndrome

Melkersson Rosenthal syndrome is a rare neurological disorder. It mainly affects the facial muscles but can also cause swelling of the tongue.

Diagnosing tongue swelling

To determine the cause of the swelling, your doctor will examine your tongue and surrounding tissues. During this procedure, the doctor will also observe to make sure the airways are not blocked. They will also consider the following factors:

  • Your medical history
  • The medications you are taking, your diet and lifestyle
  • Do you have an underlying condition (like an autoimmune disease)?
  • Do you have other symptoms such as hives?
  • Are you at risk for airway obstruction?

If your doctor suspects you have allergies, a drug reaction, or an underlying medical problem, he or she will order additional tests.

Treatment of swollen tongue

Depending on the extent of the swelling, you can treat the condition at home or in the hospital.

Home Remedies

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If your tongue is only mildly swollen, you can try some simple remedies to reduce swelling:

  • Use cold food or drinks to ease swelling
  • Maintain oral hygiene by proper brushing and flossing. However, you should avoid using mouthwash containing alcohol because it will increase the burning sensation in the mouth
  • Gargle with warm salt water solution
  • Avoid eating sour or too salty foods
  • If you have dry mouth and tongue discomfort, drink plenty of water and chew gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies. In addition, you can also use an artificial saliva solution to help increase moisture in the oral cavity.

In case the symptoms do not improve, you should go to the hospital for an examination immediately.

Drug treatment

Rapid angioedema leading to airway obstruction may be a sign of anaphylaxis. In this case, you need to call 911 immediately. For less severe allergic reactions, your doctor may prescribe oral antihistamines to treat them.

If tongue swelling is not related to allergies, your doctor may use one of the following treatments:

  • For swelling caused by the body producing too much bradykinin, you may be given a medicine that stops its production.
  • For mouth ulcers and inflammation, your doctor will prescribe topical corticosteroids or retinoic acid to reduce the lesions.
  • For a swollen tongue related to an infection or pre-existing disease, your doctor will also conduct appropriate treatments to manage the overall condition.

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