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Tongue Swelling

Tongue Swelling

A swollen tongue may or may not be a very severe and discomforting condition to deal with. This article discusses the causes and treatment options for dealing with this condition.
Dr. Sumaiya Khan
Last Updated: Feb 8, 2018
A tongue swelling is an abnormal condition that can occur due to various reasons. Sometimes, a swollen tongue may not even be symptomatic. An enlargement of the tongue may be due to swelling of the muscles of the tongue or due to edema of the deeper layers of the tongue.
Causes of Swollen Tongue
Allergies
One of the most common causes is allergies. Certain food allergies or allergic reactions to various different substances can lead to an untoward reaction of the tongue, which may manifest as edema, leading to tongue swelling and pain. Sometimes, the condition may also occur due to a bee sting, in which case, the swollen tongue will be, more often than not, accompanied by swollen lips and mouth as well.
Angioedema
Angioedema is a serious disease, wherein there is rapid swelling of the mucosal and submucosal tissues. This is normally seen as a result of an allergic reaction which occurs as a side effect of a medication, as is commonly seen in cases of people taking hypertensive medication, like ACE inhibitors. Sometimes, it may even be hereditary in nature. Common symptoms seen in this condition are rapid swelling of the mouth and/or throat and even swelling of the skin around the mouth. The swelling can also occur in other areas like, the hands. The swelling of the mouth and throat region may even go to an extent where it may obstruct the airway passage, causing asphyxiation.
Transient Lingual Papillitis
Transient lingual papillitis is a condition where the taste buds that are present on the dorsal surface of the tongue become inflamed, red, and swell up, and especially manifests as swollen tongue at night. This may or may not lead to overall swelling of the tongue. There have been many theories put forth as far as transient lingual papillitis causes are concerned. These range from local trauma to irritation of the tongue due to intake of spicy food.
Infections
Sometimes, the tongue may swell up as a result of a systemic disease or disorder. This is seen in cases of scarlet fever, where the tongue becomes bald (due to loss of papillae) and swells up. There is also a case where the tongue turns bright red, also known as strawberry tongue, which is seen in Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. At times, there may even be inflammation of the entire tongue known as glossitis due to a deficiency of vitamin B12. Sometimes, a person may even experience swelling in the tongue after piercing if the site of piercing gets infected.
Medications
Sometimes, the swollen tongue may manifest as a side effect of certain medications. This may be a known side effect of that medication or it may be idiosyncratic in nature.
Treatment
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Try to find out what food or medications tend to cause an allergic reaction in your body so that you can avoid them. In most cases, there is no need for transient lingual papillitis treatment as this condition is asymptomatic. In case of a systemic infection, treating the infection will help get rid of the swelling of the tongue.
Sometimes, a person may have an inherently large tongue, as is seen in macroglossia or scrotal tongue, which may be mistakenly diagnosed as being a tongue swelling. Although a swollen tongue is rarely very severe, we need to understand that at times, it can be so severe that may make the tongue, double its original size. This could lead to interference with the airway passage, which could be fatal. Hence, it is best to deal with this condition on a priority basis so as to prevent any further complications.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.