Treating a Swollen Tongue

Swollen tongue or glossitis is a condition of tongue inflammation that causes it to change in color, shape and texture. Glossitis can occur due to allergic reactions or infections from bacteria, viruses or fungi. Disorders of the immune system, Sjogren's syndrome or injurious conditions like bad-fitting teeth, rough teeth or burns can also promote swelling.

Treatment of glossitis or swollen tongue includes combining treatment of causative factors behind the welling with symptomatic relief measures. Below are some of the types of glossitis

10 Vital Causative Factors

Atrophic Glossitis

Atrophic glossitis is characterized by the absence of filiform papillae (keratinous structures originating from the tongue's surface containing the taste buds and helping in gripping food), resulting in a smooth, shining tongue swollen in appearance. Other symptoms the individual observes in atrophic glossitis are burning and discomfort.

Atrophic glossitis occurs because of Vitamin B12 deficiency, because of which intramuscular Vitamin B12 and Vitamin E are often advised to provide symptomatic relief.

Infectious Glossitis

Infectious Glossitis or Median Geographic glossitis results from Candida albicans infection resulting in map-like red lesions throughout the mouth with patches of missing papillae. Frequently inhaling corticosteroids, using dentures or having dry mouth conditions are some risk factors for oral glossitis.

Antifungals like Nystatin, Clotrimazole and Miconazole are some of the main treatment options for Candida-induced infectious glossitis.

Allergic Glossitis

Acute or Allergic glossitis results in sudden and painful tongue inflammation because of allergic reactions and extreme reactions like being unable to eat, drink or sleep.

Acute glossitis is treated through anti-allergic medications and identifying and avoiding the allergy-triggering antigen ( foods, medicines).

Median Rhomboid Glossitis

Median Rhomboid Glossitis is a non-contagious swelling of the middle of the tongue characterized by a smooth red flat, or raised nodular area on the middle or back of the tongue.

It can occur because of a suppressed immune system or fungal infection. Immunosuppressants and antifungals are the chief treatment options in median rhomboid glossitis.

Migratory Glossitis

Benign Migratory Glossitis or Geographic Tongue is a condition in which tongue inflammation appears in a geographic pattern with loss of papillae in the inflammatory regions.

Migratory glossitis is usually harmless and resolves in time without treatment. The patient is advised to avoid eating hot and spicy foods that can exacerbate the discomfort. If required, anaesthetic agents, anaesthetic mouthwash, antihistamines and topical steroids are recommended for symptomatic relief.

Medication-induced Glossitis

Drug-induced glossitis is a side effect of antibiotics, corticosteroids, ACE inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants.

Maintaining oral hygiene and discontinuing the offending medications are crucial in providing symptomatic relief.

Strawberry Tongue

Strawberry tongue or raspberry tongue is an inflammation of the dorsum of the tongue ( upper surface of the tongue ) characterized by inflamed and hypertrophic fungiform papillae ( raised tongue structures containing the taste buds) with hyperemia. Strawberry tongue occurs in conditions like scarlet fever and Kawasaki Disease, i.e. illness causing inflammation in blood vessels throughout the body.

Diagnosing and treating the underlying condition in such conditions can help provide symptomatic relief.

Cancer Induced Swelling

Tongue cancer has an incidence of 2% of all cancers and affects females more than males, with symptoms of a swollen tongue, numbness in your mouth and unexpected bleeding.

Factors like the HPV virus increase the risk of tongue cancer significantly. Early detection and treatment options like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery can prove life-saving.

Traumatic Glossitis

Traumatic tongue swelling can result when you accidentally burn your tongue while drinking hot fluids or bite it. Also, cosmetic tongue piercing can lead to swelling and bacterial infection.

In case of traumatic tongue swelling, it is best to get urgent medical attention as, left untreated, the swelling can block your airway and cause breathing problems.

Skin condition-induced glossitis

Skin diseases can irritate the tongue's surface and lead to mild-moderate swelling. Oral Pemphigus ( an autoimmune disorder causing skin blisters and mouth sores ), oral lichen planus (an inflammatory condition affecting the membranes inside the mouth ), and oral psoriasis ( an autoimmune disease resulting in scaly lesions inside the mouth) can result in swollen tongue with discomfort and burning.

Treating the underlying skin conditions and home remedies can decrease the swelling to some extent and ease the burning moderately.

Treatment Options



Epinephrine is used in allergic conditions of the system, causing tongue swelling. It is usually advised in severe allergic reactions obstructing the airways.


Antihistamines are recommended in less-severe tongue swelling conditions because of allergens like food, pollen and bee stings.


Patients with tongue Swelling because of multiple ulcers are advised corticosteroids to bring down the swelling or till the ulcers have healed.

Supplement and Diet Changes

Vitamin B12 tablets and a plain diet without hot or spicy foods are some supplements and diet changes for dealing with glossitis.

Eliminating Triggers

Avoiding certain foods, medication, and inflammation-inducing triggers can help in preventing the occurrence of glossitis.

Good oral hygiene

Practicing good oral hygiene can eliminate pathogens from the surface and keep it clean for the medications to be effective.

Symptoms of glossitis

The symptoms of glossitis vary from person to person and are chiefly in the form of

  • Swelling of the tongue

  • The color changes from the normal pink to red to purple

  • Difficulty eating food and swallowing drinks

  • Difficulty in speaking normally

  • Irritation symptoms like burning and itching

  • Moderate to severe pain

  • Temporary loss of taste

Home remedies

Aloe vera

Aloe Vera is known for its skin-soothing properties. Rinsing the mouth 2-3 times a day with aloe vera juice or applying the pulp directly over the tongue can help quickly heal possible lesions causing tongue swelling.

Baking Soda

Studies have shown the salivary pH significantly increases after sodium bicarbonate oral rinse. The use of baking soda can help lessen tongue swelling resulting from dryness of the mouth.

Salt Water

Salt temporarily increases the mouth's pH and creates an alkaline environment that destroys the bacteria causing swelling. It even works as an anti-inflammatory to bring down the swelling.


Honey helps bring down the burn-induced swollen tongue and helps in faster healing. Honey's antioxidants and antibiotic properties relieve swelling and burning because of pathogens and prevent the problem from exacerbating.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties that can reduce Candida albicans-induced tongue swelling. Studies have shown that oil pulling with coconut oil can reduce plaque buildup and decrease the effects of gingivitis.


Antacids effectively treat tongue swelling and burning resulting from acid buildup caused by persistent acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Cold Water

Rinsing the tongue with cold water does not directly help reduce swelling. But it relieves the burning sensation and washes away the microbial agents to help bring down the swelling.


A swollen tongue is no joke. It can cause a great deal of discomfort. Thus, seeking medical attention for this issue as soon as possible is vital. If you ignore it, the situation may lead to long-term damage or even death. Fortunately, the vast majority of causes are not serious. It can be treated with home remedies such as salt water gargles and cold compresses. Practicing good oral hygiene habits, drinking plenty of fluids, eating soft foods and avoiding irritating substances should help to alleviate your symptoms significantly within a few days.

Updated on: 05-Apr-2023


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