Tongue Bumps: 10 Potential Causes and Treatments (2024)

Small bumps on the tongue are common. However, bumps that change size or feel irritated could signal different health conditions, such as lie bumps, scarlet fever, or glossitis.

Fungiform papillae are small bumps located on the top and sides of your tongue. They’re the same color as the rest of your tongue and, under typical circ*mstances, are unnoticeable. They give your tongue a rough texture, which helps you eat. They also contain taste buds and temperature sensors.

Papillae can become enlarged for a variety of reasons. Most of the time, these reasons aren’t serious. See a doctor if the bumps are persistent, are growing or spreading, or are making it hard to eat.

In this article, we take a closer look at what might irritate the papillae, along with other conditions that can cause bumps on the tongue.

About half of us experience lie bumps at some point. These little white or red bumps form when papillae become irritated and slightly swollen. It’s not always clear why this happens, but it may be related to stress, hormones, or particular foods.

Although they can be uncomfortable, lie bumps aren’t serious and usually clear up without treatment and within a few days. However, the bumps can recur.

Eruptive lingual papillitis is most common among children and is likely contagious. It can be accompanied by fever and swollen lymph nodes. It’s sometimes associated with a viral infection. It generally doesn’t require treatment and clears up within about a week, but it can recur.

Learn more on how to treat lie bumps.

Canker sores can occur anywhere in the mouth, including under the tongue. The cause of these painful, red sores is unknown. Canker sores are not contagious, and they usually feel better in 7-10 days without treatment.

Learn more on how to treat canker sores.

Squamous papilloma is associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). It’s usually a painless, irregularly shaped bump that can be treated surgically or with laser ablation.

There’s no single best treatment for HPV, but individual symptoms can be addressed.

Learn more on how to treat squamous papilloma.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It usually begins with a small, painless sore that’s easy to dismiss. The initial sore is followed by a rash. More sores come and go as the disease progresses.

In the early stages, syphilis is easily treated with antibiotics. During the secondary stages, sores may appear in the mouth and on the tongue. The infection causing these sores can lead to serious complications and even death if left untreated.

Learn more on how to treat syphilis.

Oral herpes is a viral infection caused by herpes simplex type 1. It can manifest as small, painful blisters around the mouth, nose, gums, or tongue.

These are also known as cold sores. They can be uncomfortable and can last for a few weeks.

Learn more on how to treat cold sores.

Scarlet fever can result in a “strawberry tongue.” This condition leaves the tongue red, bumpy, and swollen. This bacterial infection can also cause skin rash and fever.

Scarlet fever is usually mild and can be treated with antibiotics. Rare complications include pneumonia, rheumatic fever, and kidney disease. Scarlet fever is contagious and should be taken seriously.

Learn more on how to treat scarlet fever.

Glossitis is when inflammation makes your tongue appear smooth rather than bumpy. It may be the result of a variety of causes, including an allergic reaction, smoking, other irritants, or infection.

Learn more on how to treat glossitis.

Most bumps on the tongue aren’t serious, but some are cancerous. Cancerous bumps usually appear on the sides of the tongue rather than on the top. The most common type of cancer to develop on the tongue is squamous cell carcinoma.

When oral tongue cancer appears on the front part of the tongue, the lump may be gray, pink, or red. Touching it may cause bleeding.

Oral cancer can also occur at the back (base) of the tongue. It may be harder to detect, especially because there’s no pain at first. It may become painful as it progresses.

Learn more about the treatments for mouth cancer.

Irritation fibroma is a smooth, pink tongue growth caused by chronic irritation. These lesions might develop if you chew on the inside of your cheek or if dentures irritate the skin in your mouth. A traumatic fibroma is benign, but it can grow and become larger, especially with repeated irritation.

Since these growths can mimic other types of lesions, your doctor might recommend a biopsy to rule out oral cancer.

Most irritation fibromas are not painful and do not need to be treated. However, you can have it removed with an excision.

These soft yellow cysts usually appear underneath the tongue. Their cause isn’t clear, but these small, benign tumors.

They can occur in all ages but tend to be more frequent within the ages of 40-60. Growths are painless and don’t cause significant signs or symptoms.

Like irritation fibromas, treatment isn’t usually necessary, and the condition often improves on its own. See a doctor if the bumps don’t heal within several days or if pain interferes with eating.

This image gallery shows different bumps that may appear on the tongue.

What viruses cause bumps on the tongue?

Viruses that can cause bumps on the tongue include HPV, syphilis, and oral herpes.

Is transient lingual papillitis a sexually transmitted illness (STI)?

Transient lingual papillitis or lie bumps is a systemic illness. This means it isn’t caused by a pathogen and cannot be transmitted in any way, including sexually.

What causes swollen bumps on the back of the tongue?

Swollen bumps on your tongue are more likely related to a tongue injury, such as from biting your tongue. That said, if the swelling isn’t going down or you’re having additional symptoms, see your doctor to rule out a different cause.

Bumps on the tongue are common. Some can go unnoticed, while others can grow in size and cause irritation.

In most cases, these lesions are benign, but it’s important to see a doctor if you develop a new growth or if a lesion changes in size. Your doctor can diagnose the bump and recommend treatment if necessary.

Tongue Bumps: 10 Potential Causes and Treatments (2024)
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