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Red Bumps on the Tongue

Red Bumps on the Tongue

Red bumps or sores on the tongue are usually caused by a minor trauma or injury. The various possible causes of tongue sores, and the treatment options available for this condition are discussed in this Buzzle article.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
A healthy tongue is usually pink in color, and it remains covered with papillae that look like small nodules. Tongue sores and bumps are usually benign ulcers or blisters that can appear due to varied reasons.

More commonly, bumps can develop on the tongue due to a minor injury or irritation of the papillae (taste buds).
Some individuals can be predisposed to develop bumps on the tongue frequently. Though harmless, tongue sores can cause a lot of discomfort or pain while chewing food.

Tongue sores or blisters can be white or red, and they can appear in clusters at times. If they are quite large in size, occur in clusters, and cause considerable pain, then medical intervention can be required. But usually, small or minor tongue bumps resolve on their own without requiring any medical treatment.

What Causes Red Bumps on the Tongue

Several factors and conditions can be responsible for causing red bumps on the tongue, of which a few important ones are explained below.

Trauma and Injury

An injury or trauma to the tongue can cause the development of tongue sores. The tongue can sustain an injury while eating foods having sharp edges, or drinking or eating hot fluids or food. Sometimes, accidental biting and vigorous brushing can also irritate the tongue, and cause the taste buds or papillae to swell and become painful.

Such inflamed and swollen papillae can look like red bumps. Such bumps can last for several days following the injury. Apart from these, an excessive consumption of acidic and spicy foods can irritate the taste buds, and cause their enlargement.

Cold Sores

Cold sores or fever blisters usually develop on the lips. But sometimes, they can appear in the oral cavity and the tongue, and look like red swollen bumps. These bumps or blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This viral infection is characterized by recurrences, as the virus gets reactivated from time to time. The factors that usually activate the virus are, fever, stress, and overexposure to sunlight.

Canker Sores

Another type of blister that commonly develops in the oral cavity and the tongue is the canker sore. Canker sores are open blisters, and they are usually white or yellow in color. But they remain surrounded by a bright red area. Stress, tissue injuries, ill-fitting dentures and braces, as well as nutritional deficiencies and gastrointestinal problems can trigger the development of canker sores.

Allergic Reactions

Another possible cause of tongue sores can be allergies, especially food allergies. An allergic reaction to a food can cause the development of bumps on any part of the tongue, including the back of the tongue. Many times, a reaction to acidic foods like citrus fruits can irritate the taste buds, and cause the development of tongue ulcers.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

This is a viral disease that commonly affects infants and children younger than 5 years of age. The disease is contagious. It causes mild fever, which is then followed by a sore throat, and the appearance of maculopapular rash on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Painful sores or blisters can develop in the oral cavity, including the tongue. This viral disease is usually caused by intestinal viruses like coxsackievirus or enterovirus.


Rarely, sores that develop inside the oral cavity can be associated with syphilis. The characteristic sore caused by syphilis is described as a firm and hard sore, not tender to the touch. The sore usually develops in the genital area and the rectum, but occasionally, it can develop in the oral cavity as well. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. This disease can eventually affect several parts of the body, including the vital organs like the heart and the nervous system.

Other Possible Causes

Tongue sores are also presumed to be associated with nutritional deficiencies, especially deficiencies of vitamin B12, folic acid, zinc, and iron. Even hormonal fluctuations may cause the development of tongue sores. Rarely, tongue sores can be associated with oral cancer. Sores or bumps caused by cancer usually appear on one side of the tongue, and they are painless and hard to touch.

Accompanied Symptoms

Red tongue bumps can be accompanied by pain or a burning sensation. The pain and the burning sensation caused by such bumps can make eating and chewing food quite difficult. However, these symptoms resolve gradually on their own within a couple of days. Sometimes, tongue bumps may not be painful, and they may feel like hard lumps to touch. This can be a symptom of oral cancer. Tongue bumps caused by cancer usually appear on one side of the tongue, and the floor of the mouth.


Ascertaining the particular type of red bump is very important to alleviate this condition. Benadryl and milk of magnesia are usually used to treat canker sores. But if the bumps are cold sores, and they are quite large in size, or if they do not subside within a few days, then medications can be required. Usually, antiviral medications are employed for treating such large and painful cold sores.

If the bumps are quite painful, then your physician may recommend an antimicrobial mouthwash and corticosteroid ointment. Corticosteroid ointments are usually prescribed to reduce the inflammation and pain caused by this condition. For severe pain, pain killers can also be prescribed by your physician. Benzydamine is a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used for relieving painful mouth and tongue ulcers. The topical corticosteroid that is commonly used for this purpose is triamcinolone.

Home Remedies

Tongue bumps can be alleviated with some simple home remedies, and over-the-counter medications as well. So, you can try the following products for treating tongue ulcers.

Use saline water as a mouthwash. It can accelerate the healing of tongue and mouth ulcers.

Apply ice cubes on the bumps to reduce pain and ensure their rapid healing.

For canker sores, you can use a paste of baking soda. Add a small amount of water to baking soda to make a thick paste, and spread the paste over the bumps. Keep it for a few minutes, and then rinse your mouth properly.

Clove oil, tea tree oil, and aloe vera gel can also be used for treating canker sores.

Papaya can be extremely helpful in treating tongue sores. It can ensure rapid healing of the sores.

Place a tea bag on the sores for a few minutes. It can soothe the affected area and reduce the pain. You can also apply chamomile tea and ginger tea on the affected area.

Herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, and aloe vera are quite effective in treating cold sores.

Apply glycerin regularly on the affected area of the tongue. Glycerin can soothe the sores and accelerate their healing.

The proper treatment of mouth and tongue ulcers depends on the identification of the underlying causes. Therefore, if tongue bumps do not heal within a couple of days and appear quite frequently, or if they feel like hard but painless lumps, then consider to visit your physician to get the condition properly evaluated.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.