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Glossitis refers to inflammation of the tongue. The condition causes the tongue to swell in size, change in color, and develop a different appearance on the surface. The tongue is the small, muscular organ in the mouth that helps you chew and swallow food. It also helps with your speech.
Glossitis may cause the small bumps on the surface of the tongue (papillae) to disappear. The papillae contain thousands of tiny sensors called taste buds and play a role in how you eat. Severe tongue inflammation that results in swelling and redness can cause pain and may change the way you eat or speak.
There are different types of glossitis, which include:
Acute glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that appears suddenly and often has severe symptoms. This type of glossitis typically develops during an allergic reaction.
Chronic glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that continues to recur. This type may begin as a symptom of another health condition.
Atrophic glossitis, also known as Hunter glossitis, occurs when many papillae are lost. This results in changes in the tongue’s color and texture. This type of glossitis typically gives the tongue a glossy appearance.
A few factors can cause inflammation of the tongue, including:
Allergic reactions to medications, food, and other potential irritants may aggravate the papillae and the muscle tissues of the tongue. Irritants include toothpaste and certain types of medications that treat high blood pressure.
Certain diseases that affect your immune system may attack the tongue’s muscles and papillae. Herpes simplex, a virus that causes cold sores and blisters around the mouth, may contribute to swelling and pain in the tongue.
Not enough iron in the blood can trigger glossitis. Iron regulates cell growth by helping your body make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs, tissues, and muscles. Low levels of iron in the blood may result in low levels of myoglobin. Myoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that’s important for muscle health, including the tongue’s muscle tissue.
Trauma caused by injuries to the mouth can affect the condition of your tongue. Inflammation may occur because of cuts and burns on the tongue or dental appliances like braces placed on your teeth.
You may be at risk for tongue inflammation if you:
Your symptoms may vary depending on the cause of the inflammation. General symptoms include:
You may see your dentist or doctor for an assessment of your condition. They’ll examine your mouth to check for abnormal bumps and blisters on your tongue, gums, and soft tissues of your mouth. Samples of your saliva and blood may also be taken and sent to a laboratory for further examination.
Treatment for glossitis typically includes a combination of medications and home remedies.
Antibiotics and other medications that get rid of infections may be prescribed if bacteria are present in your body. Your doctor may also prescribe topical corticosteroids to reduce the redness and soreness.
Brushing and flossing your teeth several times a day may improve the health of your tongue, gums, and teeth. This can help relieve the symptoms associated with glossitis and prevent the condition from happening again.
In most cases, glossitis goes away with time or treatment. Treatment may be more successful if you avoid foods that cause inflammation of the tongue. Practicing proper oral hygiene may also help reduce or prevent problems. Speak with your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with treatment or continue to occur.
Call 911 or go to the hospital right away if your tongue becomes severely swollen and begins to block your airway. This may be a sign of a more serious condition.
Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Winnie Yu
Medically reviewed on: Sep 25, 2017: Daniel Murrell, MD
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