What causes tongue swelling?

Inflammation of the tongue, sometimes called glossitis, is a condition in which the tongue becomes swollen, smooth, sore, or discolored. This condition can be caused by a number of factors, including bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or exposure to irritating substances. In some cases, a swollen tongue can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as anemia, certain autoimmune disorders, or dietary deficiencies.

A swollen tongue can be a primary or secondary condition, but it can also be inherited. As a primary condition, tongue swelling is commonly the result of trauma. Burns from hot beverages, spicy or acidic foods, or concentrated dental care products can make the tongue swollen or painful to the touch. The tongue can also become inflamed or infected from ill-fitting dentures, jagged teeth, or poorly placed piercings. In some cases, the use of undiluted chewing or smoking tobacco, alcohol, or herbal tinctures can also cause trauma leading to swelling.

Allergies and deficiencies are two other potential causes of tongue inflammation. In many people, especially those who are hypersensitive, certain substances can cause acute inflammation. Colorants and preservatives are sometimes prone to causing an allergic reaction, as are many dental hygiene products and certain medications and treatments, such as bronchodilators and chemotherapy. Deficiencies in certain B and C vitamins, as well as minerals such as iron, can also cause tongue swelling.

Secondary conditions are also common reasons why a tongue may become inflamed. Certain skin conditions, such as lichen planus or erythema multiforme, can affect the mucous membranes and can also cause lesions on the tongue. Other secondary causes of inflammation of the tongue may include diseases such as syphilis, stomatitis or oral herpes. Also, conditions that can cause dry mouth, such as Sjogren's syndrome, can lead to a swollen tongue.

Although rare, tongue swelling can be due to hereditary or congenital conditions and can also be the result of certain types of poisoning. Acrodermatitis enteropathica, an inherited condition characterized by zinc deficiency, can cause the tongue to become swollen, shiny, and red. Although median rhomboid glossitis, which is sometimes thought to be a congenital condition, is usually not painful, it can cause part of the tongue to appear red or white. Exposure to poisons like arsenic or mercury can also cause the tongue to become inflamed.

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