Swollen Tongue: 6 Causes & What to Do

Updated in January 2023

A swollen tongue can occur with allergies, a deficiency in B-complex vitamins or iron, oral thrush, Sjögren syndrome, glossitis, or even oral cancer. Due to these diverse causes, it is important for a swollen tongue to be assessed by a doctor. 

You should particularly see a doctor if the swelling persists and does not improve with time, or if it is accompanied by symptoms like difficulty swallowing or breathing, changes to taste, spots in the moth or frequent fatigue. These are symptoms of a more urgent situation.

Treatment for a swollen tongue depends on the underlying cause, but it may involve the use of analgesics, anti-inflammatories or anti-microbials, as well as adequate oral hygiene. 

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Common causes

A swollen tongue can occur for the following reasons: 

1. Allergic reactions

Some mouth products (like lipstick, toothpaste, mouthwash, and dentures) or medications can cause an allergy, leading to tongue swelling. 

What to do: It is important to proceed to the closest hospital if yo ur tongue becomes swollen from an allergy, as the swelling can compromise breathing and be life-threatening. Treatment should be treated promptly. 

You should identify the trigger to avoid a reaction in the future. 

2. Sjögren syndrome

Sjögren syndrome is a chronic, rheumatic autoimmune disease. It consists of inflammations of certain glands in the body, like the mouth and eyes, which can cause symptoms like mouth or eye dryness, difficulty swallowing, and increased risk for infections. These symptoms may lead to a swollen tongue. 

What to do: In this case, treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. The doctor may prescribe lubricating eye drops, analgesics, anti-inflammatories, immuno-modulating medication and medication that impacts glandular function. 

3. Vitamin and mineral deficiency

Very low levels of B-complex vitamins or iron can cause tongue swelling and other symptoms like fatigue, anemia, energy loss, decreased concentration, loss of appetite, frequent infections, dizziness and leg tingling. 

What to do: It is important to identify which vitamins or minerals you are low in so that you can adjust your diet and use supplements as required. 

4. Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a fungal infection in the mouth. It can cause symptoms like a white plaques in the mouth, the sensation of cotton in the mouth, and pain or burning in affected areas o f the mouth. It is more frequently seen in people with less-developed or compromised immune system, like in babies, or people with a history of HIV, diabetes or infections. 

What to do: Treatment should be prescribed by a doctor, who may prescribe oral nystatin gargles or oral antifungals like fluconazole. 

5. Oral cancer

Oral cancer can affect any part of the mouth, including the tongue. It causes symptoms like red or white patches, swelling, throat irritation, difficulty speaking or swallowing, and wounds that do not heal. 

What to do: Treatment for oral cancer should be guided by a doctor and depends on the severity of the cancer. The doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy or surgery. 

6. Glossitis

Glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that can cause swelling, as well as tongue pain, increased sensitivity, difficulty swallowing and chewing, and even a change in tongue color. This can occur with a bacterial or viral infection, burn, allergy, or dry mouth. 

What to do: It is important to consult a doctor to identify the underlying cause of glossitis so that the most appropriate treatment can be initiated. The doctor may prescribe analgesics, anti-inflammatories or corticosteroids to relieve symptoms.