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Everything You Need to Know About Glossitis
Glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue. Find more information on glossitis, including symptoms, causes, types, and treatment.

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What Is Glossitis?

Glossitis refers to inflammation of the tongue. The condition causes the tongue to swell in size, change in color, and develop a smooth appearance on the surface. The tongue is the small, muscular organ in the mouth that helps you chew and swallow food. It also helps with your speech.

Glossitis can cause the small bumps on the surface of the tongue called the papillae to disappear. Your papillae play a role in how you eat. They contain thousands of tiny sensors called taste buds.

Severe tongue inflammations that result in swelling and redness can cause pain and change the way you eat or speak.

The Types of Glossitis

There are several different types of glossitis:

Acute Glossitis

Acute glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that appears suddenly, and it often has severe symptoms. This type of glossitis typically develops during an allergic reaction.

Chronic Glossitis

Chronic glossitis is an inflammation of the tongue that continues to recur. This type may begin as a symptom of another health condition.

Idiopathic Glossitis

Idiopathic glossitis, also known as Hunter’s glossitis, affects the muscles of the tongue. In this condition, a significant amount of papillae can be lost. The cause of idiopathic glossitis is unknown.

Atrophic Glossitis

Atrophic glossitis occurs when a large number of papillae are lost, resulting in changes to the tongue’s color and texture. This type of glossitis typically turns the tongue dark red.

What Causes Glossitis?

A number of factors can cause inflammation of the tongue, including:

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to medications, food, and other potential irritants may aggravate the papillae and the muscle tissues of the tongue. Potential irritants include toothpaste and certain types of medications that treat high blood pressure.


Certain diseases that affect your immune system may attack the tongue’s muscles and papillae. Herpes simplex, a virus that causes cold sores and blisters around the mouth, may contribute to swelling and pain in the tongue.

Low Iron Levels

An inadequate amount of iron in the blood can trigger glossitis. Iron regulates cell growth by helping your body make red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs, tissues, and muscles. Low levels of iron in the blood may result in low levels of myoglobin. Myoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that’s important for muscle health, including the tongue’s muscle tissue.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is caused by a lack of saliva, which may be due to a salivary gland disorder or overall dehydration. You need saliva to keep your tongue moist.

Mouth Trauma

Trauma caused by injuries to the mouth can affect the condition of your tongue. Inflammation may occur as a result of cuts and burns on the tongue or of dental appliances placed on your teeth, such as braces.

Who Is at Risk for Glossitis?

You may be at risk for tongue inflammation if you:

  • have a mouth injury
  • eat spicy foods
  • wear braces or dentures that irritate your tongue
  • have herpes
  • have low iron levels
  • have dry mouth
  • have food allergies
  • have an immune system disorder

What Are the Symptoms of Glossitis?

Your symptoms may vary depending on the cause of the inflammation. In general, however, you can experience the following symptoms:

  • pain or tenderness in the tongue
  • swelling of the tongue
  • change in the color of your tongue
  • an inability to speak, eat, or swallow
  • loss of papillae on the surface of your tongue

How Is Glossitis Diagnosed?

You may see your dentist or doctor for an assessment of your condition. They’ll examine your mouth to check for abnormal bumps and blisters on your tongue, gums, and soft tissues of your mouth. Samples of your saliva and blood may also be taken and sent to a laboratory for further examination.

How Is Glossitis Treated?

Treatment for glossitis typically includes a combination of medications and home remedies.


Antibiotics and other medications that get rid of infections may be prescribed if bacteria are present in your mouth or body. Your doctor may also prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to reduce the redness and soreness.

Home Care

Brushing and flossing your teeth several times a day may improve the health of your tongue, gums, and teeth. This can help relieve the symptoms associated with glossitis and prevent the condition from happening again.

What Can Be Expected in the Long Term?

In most cases, glossitis goes away with medication. Treatment may be more successful if you avoid foods that cause inflammation of the tongue. Practicing proper oral hygiene may also help reduce or prevent further problems. Speak with your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with treatment or continue to occur.

Call 911 or go to the hospital right away if your tongue becomes severely swollen and begins to block your airway. This may be a sign of a more serious condition. 

Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Winnie Yu
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by:
Published: Jul 25, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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