Pimples on the tongue: Causes and Treatments

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Overview:

Pimples or bumps on the tongue are not unusual and there are various possible reasons for the same ranging from allergies, injuries to infections and cancers. Even though the presence of a pimple on the tongue feels strange, they are mostly harmless, nevertheless, an oral consult won’t harm and helps put the mind at ease.

Before moving to pathology one must understand what is natural. So, the natural bumps on the tongue are called papillae, which are small and numerous in number and cover the surface of the tongue. These are Filiform, Fungiform, Circumvallate, and Foliate papillae. All of these contain taste buds except filiform papillae.

Commonly encountered pimples on the tongue are:

  • Lie Bumps

Lie bumps also known as Lingual papillitis is a common ailment. It is characterized by inflamed papillae seen as red or white swollen bumps. There are two common causes for this :

  • Irritation or stress: A bump on the tongue noticed immediately after consuming certain food, liquid, or after a stressful period, is most likely a ‘transient lie bump’, which resolves on its own in a few days.
  • Infection:  Lie bump appearance associated with fever and swollen glands is possibly caused by bacterial or viral infection. This is a contagious infection.
  • Canker sores

Also known as aphthous ulcers are amongst the most common bumps found inside the mouth. Their usual presentation site includes lips, tongue, the floor of the mouth, and inside of the cheek. They appear as red, white, or yellow and can feel painful and raw. It can be associated with hormonal changes, smoking, stress, or can be precipitated by certain food or vitamin deficiencies. It usually resolves on its own but may require a trip to a doctor depending on its tenderness and hindrance. Over-the-counter medication or an anesthetic ointment can help.

  • Cold Sores:

It is also known as oral herpes, caused by HSV -1(herpes simplex virus -1). It is a very common viral infection. It occurs around the nose, mouth, lips, and tongue from time to time. It appears as raised, red, and painful pimple. It can take about 10-14 days to resolve. Antiviral oral or topical medications can be used to hasten the healing and to prevent future outbreaks. 

  • Tongue injuries:

Just like any other area of the body, following an injury or accidental bite to the tongue can result in a swollen bump. It is painful for a day or two and resolves quickly. 

  • Allergies:

Intolerance towards certain food can elicit a stronger reaction which can cause bumps on the tongue or swelling of the tongue. Sudden onset of swelling of the tongue could be due to a serious allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. A person should immediately rush to an ER if they experience swelling of tongue, lips, wheezing or difficulty in breathing, and the sudden appearance of a rash. 

  • Syphilis:

Syphilis is a potentially life- threatening but treatable bacterial infection. During its presentation in its initial stage it appears as sore or bump on the tongue, especially at the tip. 

  • Tuberculosis:

It is an infectious disease majorly affecting the lungs. Some individuals with tuberculosis develop sores anywhere on their body, including the tongue. It may appear as the first symptom of the disease in a freshly infected patient. 

  • Cancer:

Among the pimples on the tongue, cancer is a rare occurrence. These pimples usually appear on the tongue sides than on top. The most common tongue cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Tongue cancer occurring on the front part may appear as red, pink, or grey. Bleeding may or may not be presented. Usually present as non-painful. Cancer found at the back of the tongue is harder to detect. Thus, any bump or pimple lasting more than two weeks should be consulted with the doctor.  

  • Traumatic fibroma:

It is caused by chronic irritation resulting in a smooth, pink-colored pimple on the tongue. Commonly seen on sides of the tongue with a sharp tooth, or constant trauma from the tooth. It may or may not be painful. Its diagnosis is difficult, hence the biopsy is mostly necessary. If required the growth is surgically removed.  

When to visit a doctor:

Among the above-mentioned pimples on the tongue, only anaphylaxis, which is a stronger allergic reaction of the body warrants an emergency room visit. Aside from that if a pimple is associated with fever or is accompanied by intense pain that hinders the daily activity or food intake, requires a consultation with an oral physician. Also, if the pimple is non-painful and grows in size, and doesn’t resolve in 10-14 days’ time, it is better to talk to a doctor. Otherwise, a usual pimp on the tongue appears once in everyone’s life and it mostly settles down in a week. 

Treatment:

Most of the pimples on the tongue resolve once it has finished its course. However, cold sores can be treated with antiviral medications.

In some cases these appearances of the pimples on the tongue are the sign of some underlying disease, thus a proper diagnosis and treatment will relieve the symptoms and the potential chances of recurrence of these pimples in future.

Despite the cause behind the tongue pimples, some home remedies to help relieve the symptoms include:

  • Intake of plenty of water
  • Avoiding spicy and acidic food
  • Warm saline rinses or baking soda mouth rinses
  • Topical anesthetic medications
  • Use of non-alcoholic mouthwashes.

Prevention:

Good oral hygiene can also help in preventing or lowering the risk of tongue pimple and cancer, it can even prevent the bumps from getting infected and painful. Some measures include:

  • Brushing twice daily
  • Rinsing mouth after every meal
  • Avoidance of food that irritates the gum
  • Limit on sugary snacks to prevent tooth decay
  • Avoiding smoking and tobacco chewing
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Visiting a dentist once in six months
  • Treating the underlying disease
  • People of age up to 26 must consider getting HPV vaccination, helps to prevent oral and genital cancer.

Conclusion:

Pimples on tongue can be presented as worry for some people, however, they are harmless in most cases occurring as a result of minor injury or a relatively harmless condition. Individuals with tongue pimple should monitor their symptom and take proper care. Worsening of symptom or increasing pain should be considered as the sign for doctor’s visit.

References:

  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/threats-to-dental-health/what-causes-tongue-bumps
  • Ashley Laderer(2021). What those bumps on your tongue mean and how to get rid of them. Insider. https://www.insider.com/pimple-on-tongue
  • Zawn Villines (2020). What causes tongue bumps? Medical news today.https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321891

 

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