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Glossitis

Glossitis is a problem in which the tongue is swollen and changes color, often making the surface of the tongue appear smooth. Geographic tongue [01-01049] is a type of glossitis.

Alternative Names

Tongue inflammation; Tongue infection; Smooth tongue; Glossodynia; Burning tongue syndrome

Causes

Glossitis is often a symptom of other conditions, such as:

  • Allergic reactions to oralcare products, foods, or medicine
  • Dry mouth due to Sjogren syndrome [link to 01-000456]
  • Infection from bacteria, yeast or viruses (including oral herpes)
  • Injury (such as from burns, rough teeth, or bad-fitting dentures0
  • Skin conditions that affect the mouth
  • Irritants such as tobacco, alcohol, hot foods, spices, or other irritants
  • Hormonal factors

At times, glossitis may be passed down in families.

Symptoms

Symptoms of glossitis may come on quickly or develop over time. They include:

  • Problems chewing, swallowing, or speaking
  • Smooth surface of the tongue
  • Sore, tender, or swollen tongue
  • Pale or bright red color to the tongue
  • Tongue swelling

Rare symptoms or problems include

  • blocked airway
  • Problems speaking, chewing, or swallowing

Exams and Tests

Your dentist or health care provider will do an exam to look for:

  • Finger-like bumps on the surface of the tongue (called papillae) that may be missing
  • Swollen tongue (or patches of swelling)

The health care provider may ask questions about your health history and lifestyle to help discover the cause of tongue inflammation.

You may need blood tests may be done to rule out other medical problems.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce swelling and soreness. Most people do not need to go to the hospital unless the tongue is very swollen. Treatment may include:

  • Good oral care. Brush your teeth thoroughly at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
  • Antibiotics or other medicines to treat infection.
  • Diet changes and supplements to treat nutrition problems.
  • Avoiding irritants (such as hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and tobacco) to ease discomfort.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Glossitis goes away with if the cause of problem is removed or treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • Symptoms of glossitis last longer than 10 days
  • Tongue swelling is very bad.
  • Breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing causes problems.

Get emergency care right away if tongue swelling blocks the airway.

Prevention

Good oral care (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups) may help prevent glossitis.

References

Reamy BV, Derby R, Bunt CW. Common tongue conditions in primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2010;81(5):627-634.

Mirowski GW, Mark LA. Oral disease and oral-cutaneous manifestations of gastrointestinal and liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 22.

Updated: 3/22/2013

Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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