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Bumps on Back of the Tongue

Bumps on Back of the Tongue

Most people have some natural, harmless bumps on the back of the tongue. However, there are certain medical conditions that are characterized by abnormal growths on this muscular organ.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
With the increasing awareness about health and medical conditions like cancer, lumps and bumps are often viewed with suspicion. Such growths may appear on any part of the body and can be caused by various reasons. The causes may also vary with the specific body part. Usually, a human tongue has some small bumps called papillae. Those papillae, which are located on the back of the tongue are slightly larger, as compared to others. So these natural bumps are harmless and are part of the normal tongue anatomy. However, you must be cautious about the abnormal growths and lesions that may indicate health problems that could be life-threatening in some cases.

What Causes Bumps on Back of the Tongue

Some Bumps are Natural
: The larger bumps on back of the tongue are called 'circumvallate papillae' or 'vallate papillae'. These papillae contain taste buds and are arranged on the base of the tongue in a V-shape that points towards the throat. There are around eight to twelve circumvallate papillae that may not be easily visible as they are located on the rear side of the tongue. There are also lingual tonsils, which are rounded masses of lymphatic tissues that are located on the base of this organ. These are the natural bumps that are found on the base of the tongue.

Natural Bumps may Grow: Even though presence of bumps on back of the tongue is normal, their appearance may change due to various reasons. For example, chronic sinus infections may cause enlargement of circumvallate papillae, located on the back of the tongue. Some people have large taste buds that may appear as bumps. In some cases, hot and spicy foods may irritate taste buds, thereby causing inflammation and enlargement. Some medical conditions may cause abnormal bumps to develop on the tongue.

Injury or Trauma
: Injuries like bites or burns, can cause large red bumps on the tongue. As compared to the frontal part of the organ, there are very less chances for its rear side to get affected with such injuries, which can be painful. Even accidental biting and toothbrush abrasions may cause bumpy lesions on the tongue. In case of such injuries, painful red bumps may develop. These bumps can be treated with an antiseptic or saltwater mouth rinse, though they are found to heal on their own. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to prevent bacterial infection.

Allergies and Canker Sores
: Bumps on the tongue may develop due to allergies, especially those which are caused by food and medication. Such bumps may appear on all parts of the tongue, and the larger ones are usually seen on the rear end. While mild cases of swelling and welts are treated with antihistamines, severe swelling needs immediate medical attention. Canker sores can appear on any part of the tongue or mouth. The bumps on back of tongue could be canker sores, which may be left to heal naturally. They can also be healed with saltwater rinse.

How to Identify:
If you are allergic to certain foods or medication, you will develop swelling of the tongue, within few minutes or hours after having the specific food or drug. Apart from a bumpy tongue, the affected person may also develop welts and a swollen face. In case of mild allergy, the bumps on tongue may not cause severe symptoms. However, some people may develop severe and life-threatening symptoms too. Bumps caused by canker sores are very common and usually heal on their own. These small ulcers have red margins and a whitish/yellowish center. Usually, canker sores are swollen and painful.

Kawasaki Disease
: Another uncommon and rare cause for bumps on back of the tongue is an autoimmune disease, which affects children. This condition, which is called Kawasaki disease, is characterized by large, red bumps on the backside of the tongue. Even though very little is known about this condition, which can cause the tongue to turn deep red in color, it is considered fatal for the affected child, if left untreated.

How to Identify:
Apart from the red bumps on the tongue, the disease is often accompanied with high fever, bloodshot eyes, cracked lips, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and redness of palms and soles.

: Though warts are usually seen in other parts of the oral cavity, in some cases, such growths may develop on the tongue too. Warts can be of two types - common ones, transmitted by sucking of fingers (affected with warts) and genital warts, transmitted through oral sex with a person who has active genital warts.

How to Identify:
Oral warts may appear as a single growth or in clusters. They can be like raised bumps with a smooth, spiky, or wrinkled appearance. As compared to the neighboring healthy tissues, oral warts may be slightly discolored. They may be whitish, pink, or red in color. Normally, oral warts are not painful.

Oral thrush
: This is a fungal infection of the mouth, which is characterized by lesions with a whitish or yellowish coating. Such lesions may develop on the gums, tongue, palate, and even the tonsils. In some cases, these lesions may appear as bumps with a white coating and a red tissue on the underside . If you try to scrape the coating, the tissue may bleed easily.

How to Identify: The lesions caused by oral thrush are seen on the inner cheeks, gums and even the roof of the mouth. The lesions are painful and may bleed too. They may increase in size and also spread easily. The affected person may also experience loss of taste.

Leukoplakia: This is a condition that causes thickened white lesions in the oral cavity. They may also appear as raised bumps on the tongue, inside the cheeks and on the gums. Though this condition is benign, in some cases, such lesions could be precancerous. In some people, red lesions are also seen and the condition is called erythroplakia. Hairy leukoplakia is found as wrinkled patches on the sides of the tongue.

How to Identify: The lesions can be seen anywhere inside the cheeks, tongue, gums, and roof of the mouth. It takes a few weeks or even months for the patches to form, thicken and get hard. Though they are not painful, sometimes, the lesions are found to be sensitive to hot and spicy foods.

Scarlet Fever: Red bumps on tongue may develop with scarlet fever too. The tongue itself develops a deep red color and the natural bumps on it get larger in size. This is a bacterial disease which starts with red bumps on the chest and abdomen. The rash may also spread to the whole body. Other symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat and high fever.

Cancer: Though not common, some of the oral bumps could be malignant, especially the painless ones. So oral cancer is also a possible cause for bumps on tongue. The bumps could be whitish or red in color and may bleed easily. Other symptoms include numbness, bad breath, recurrent sore throat, ear pain, etc. Some people may experience pain while chewing and swallowing.

When to Seek Medical Attention
In short, bumps on back of the tongue are normal, if they are symmetrical and are not unusually large and discolored. The bumps that are naturally seen on the tongue may get slightly larger and inflamed, in case of injury and infections. However, painless, one-sided lumps that appear without any apparent reason need to be checked, so as to rule out the chances of malignancy. In case of larger bumps which are red in color, wait for a few days. If these bumps do not disappear within a few days, you have to consult a doctor at the earliest. If you are doubtful about the nature of bumps on the tongue, it is always better to consult your doctor.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.