Why Does My Tongue Hurt?

Friday, November 20, 2009
" Dr. Courey – My tongue hurts! It hurts to eat, drink , even talking hurts!" These are unfortunate symptoms of glossitis.


It's not a canker sore or a new piercing – a tender feeling tongue with a burning sensation and a red color, swollen with a smooth appearance indicates glossitis – inflammation of the tongue. The causes of an inflamed tongue may stem from local factors like contact with irritants – tobacco, alcohol, spices, hot food and liquids. Dental conditions can also contribute to an inflamed tongue, such as chipped or rough tooth surfaces. Viral infections like herpes simplex, canker sores and even allergic reactions – food, toothpaste, mouthwash – can all contribute to glossitis as well!

An inflammation of the tongue (glossitis) typically leads to a change in the appearance of the tongue surface. Protrusion projections on the tongue"s surface layer (called papillae) may be lost, losing the classic bumped appearance, making the tongue appear completely smooth. Red or irregular patches of pale skin is called geographic tongue, and usually has no symptom but is a chronic condition that does not go away. An overly sensitive tongue might lead to difficulty speaking or swallowing. In some cases, glossitis may result in severe tongue swelling which can impede the throat, making it very difficult to breathe, a medical emergency that would require immediate attention.

Though not widely known, the tongue is a great indicator of our body's general health. Experienced practitioners in alternative medicine can often diagnose an individual's physical condition by just looking at a patient's tongue! An inflamed tongue can be associated with a disease, disorder or condition like anxiety, depression, hypothyroidism, hormonal changes, immune system alterations, drugs reactions, leukemia,a vitamin deficiency in folic acid, B12 and iron, or even cancer.

So what are the treatments of glossitis? We do need to differentiate the cause of the inflammation of the tongue first.As previously mentioned, a vitamin deficiency such as iron deficiency anemia, pernicious anemia and other B-vitamin deficiencies are the most common reasons for a painful tongue. Oral lichen planus, erythema multiforme, aphthous ulcer, pemphigus vulgaris, syphilis, and others can also be culprits of causing glossitis. Irritants such as alcohol, tobacco and spicy foods and even certain medication may also cause temporary glossitis.

The important thing to remember with an inflamed or burning tongue is that reversing the inflammation is the primary treatment goal – if the inflammation is treated, other side effects (like burning sensations, redness etc) will almost always dissipate. Take both vitamin C and vitamin B complex every day, as these are the most common vitamin deficiencies associated with a painful tongue.

Cutting back on bad daily habits (like drinking and smoking watching your diet for possible allergic reactions and better managing your daily stress will also aid in healing your tongue back to a healthy and normally functioning condition. If the symptoms of a painful tongue persist after two to three weeks of home self management, visit your health care professional to rule out any other possible medical conditions.
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