A healthy tongue is characterized by a covering of tiny papillae and pink color. Bumps on tongue are a symptom of some underlying abnormality; they can occur due to a variety of causes, including irritation of the taste buds or minor tongue injuries. Some people may be prone to developing bumps on tongue. It is generally a harmless condition, but associated pain and discomfort can result in eating and talking difficulties.
Treatment of bumps on tongue is dependent on the underlying cause. Minor cases often clear out on their own or with home remedies, while severe cases need medical help.
Symptoms of bumps on tongue
Some of the common signs and symptoms that occur along with bumps on tongue are listed below:
- The bumps on tongue may be reddish or white in color.
- They may occur as a solitary abnormality or appear in clusters. Large bumps on tongue, or bumps that occur in groups often cause a lot of pain and distress. They need to be checked by a doctor.
- Pain may sometimes be accompanied by burning sensations on the tongue. This can pose problems in chewing and eating food.
- In some cases, the bumps on tongue may not cause pain. They may just occur as hardened lumps. Such bumps can be a symptom of mouth cancer. Oral cancer-related bumps typically affect only the base of the mouth and/or one side of the tongue.
Causes of bumps on tongue
Some of the common causes and associated treatment options of bumps on tongue are listed below:
- Injuries or trauma: It is the most common cause of bumps on tongue. Such bumps are usually reddish in color. Tongue injuries can arise due to intake of sharp, coarse, or hard food items such as nuts, chips, etc., or the intake of hot fluids. It can also occur due to tongue biting when chewing food or while sleeping. Another known cause of tongue injuries is vigorous brushing or cleansing of the teeth and tongue. Such bumps on tongue usually resolve on their own. Patients may however use saltwater rinses or apply oral antiseptics to alleviate associated pain and hasten the healing process. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat any secondary infections of the bumps.
- Canker sores: They are another common cause of bumps on tongue. The open blisters/sores/bumps are generally yellow or white in color and surrounded by a reddened area. It can occur due to use of braces or ill-fitting dentures, tissue trauma, nutritional deficits, stress, poor dental hygiene, and gastrointestinal disorders. A solution of hydrogen peroxide, water, and milk of magnesia can treat mild cases, while severe canker sores are treated with medications.
- Allergic reactions: Bumps on tongue can also occur as part of an allergic reaction to certain medications and foods. The condition is often accompanied by a host of other symptoms, including hives, skin rashes, breathing problems, wheezing, etc. Severe allergic reactions require emergency medical care, while minor cases can be treated with OTC antihistamines.
- Oral thrush: The condition is caused due to infection by the Candida sp. yeast and is marked by formation of abnormal patches and bumps on tongue. The condition can get triggered due to varied factors, including presence of a weakened immune system, poor dental hygiene, inhalation of steroids, an underlying case of diabetes, the use of antibiotics which destroy the good bacteria present in the mouth, and in older adults and infants. Intake of medications and yogurt as well as good dental hygiene can help treat oral thrush-associated bumps on tongue.
- Hand, foot, and mouth disease: It is a contagious illness caused due to infection by intestinal viruses such as enterovirus or coxsackievirus. It usually affects children below 5 years old, including infants. In addition to bumps on tongue, patients may suffer from painful oral blisters and sores, sore throat, mild fever, and formation of maculopapular rash on the soles of feet and palms of hands.
- Leukoplakia: The condition is marked by excessive growth of the cells present in the mouth, eventually resulting in appearance of abnormal white oral patches and bumps on tongue. It usually arises due to increased irritation of the mouth and tongue caused by foreign matter like cigarettes and tobacco products. Leukoplakia is often regarded as a precursor to oral cancer.
- Oral herpes/cold sores: The condition is caused due to infection by HSV-1 or the simplex virus type 1 or genital herpes and is often transferred during oral sex. Patients may experience the development of painful, tiny, red lesions or bumps on tongue as well as on other parts of the mouth like the lips, gums, throat, etc. Cold sores generally last for a week, but patients tend to suffer from recurrent episodes often triggered by factors like overexposure to sunlight, stress, and fever. It is treated with antiviral medications. Painkillers can help alleviate associated pain.
- Scarlet fever: The illness is caused due to infection by the streptococcal bacteria. Affected people may elicit red rashes or bumps on tongue as well as fever with very high body temperatures. The condition is treated with antibiotics.
- Syphilis: It is an STD or sexually transmitted disease caused due to infection by the Treponema pallidum bacteria. It typically affects the rectum and genital area, but can sometimes occur in the mouth as well. Syphilis is a very rare cause of bumps on tongue. Syphilis sores on the tongue are usually non-tender, hardened, and firm growths. In the long term, syphilis can spread to other parts of the body, including important organs like the nervous system and the heart.
- Kawasaki Syndrome: The disease affects the body’s blood vessels and is most common in children below 5 years old. In addition to bumps on tongue, affected children may experience swelling of the feet and hands as well as very high fever.
- Other causes: Bumps on tongue may also arise due to hormonal changes or fluctuations in the body. It can also occur due to deficiencies in essential nutrients, particularly vitamin B12, iron, zinc, folic acid, and other vitamins and minerals. Intake of a healthy and balanced diet as well as nutritional supplements can help resolve the problem.