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Causes of Swollen Tongue

Usually, a puffy tongue is more annoying or uncomfortable than dangerous. But it may be a sign of something serious. It can even be a medical emergency if your tongue swells so much that it’s hard for you to breathe.

Here are some common reasons for an enlarged tongue and how to handle them.

Allergic Reactions

When you eat or swallow something you are sensitive to, your immune system responds by flooding your bloodstream with histamines and other chemicals. That swells your tissue because fluid leaks from narrowed blood vessels.

That is called angioedema. It’s similar to hives, except that the welts caused by angioedema appear deeper under the skin. Insects bites also can cause this reaction. Most of the time, a puffy tongue or other symptoms may appear within a couple of hours. They usually go away within a few days. But a swollen tongue can affect your breathing, so see a doctor right away and get it checked.

Everyone is different, but common allergy triggers include: Cow’s milk, Eggs, Peanuts, walnuts, cashews, and pecans, Soy, Wheat, Shrimp, Antibiotics like penicillin, Blood pressure drugs (ACE inhibitors).

A shot of epinephrine can help you breathe. You can get a prescription for an auto-injector to carry with you in case it happens again. Call 911 after you use it since the allergic reaction is likely to come roaring back. For less serious cases, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine.

There is also a condition called acquired angioedema. You may get it if you have cancer or an autoimmune disorder. It can cause swelling in your tongue, face, lips, and elsewhere. The swelling might come and go for no reason and it might be painful, but you won’t itch or have bumps.


This can happen in different ways. Bacteria might get into your tongue from a piercing or a cut. Or you might have an overgrowth of yeast, known as oral thrush. Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, or oral HPV can also bother your tongue.


Alcohol, tobacco, spicy food, mouthwash, some toothpaste, and additives like cinnamon and mint can cause an allergy-like reaction. If you think these things might be behind your puffy tongue, stay away next time.

Lack of Vitamins and Minerals

Magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and others help your nerves work right. But you may not get enough from foods or supplements, or you may lose them through heavy menstrual periods or other ways.

For example, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause a condition called glossitis. The name comes from the fact that your tongue may puff up so much that the little bumps on it, or papillae, look smooth.

Your doctor can tell you if you need supplements and how much of them you may need to take.

Health Conditions

Sometimes, a swollen tongue can result from an existing or undiagnosed medical problem.


A lump in your tongue could be a sign of cancer. Smoking, using tobacco products, and alcohol can raise your chances for cancer in the mouth.

Sjogren’s syndrome. 

This autoimmune disease prevents your body from making enough tears or saliva. It also may make your tongue look red, white, or smooth.

Amyloidosis. When your body collects too much of a certain protein, called amyloid, it can affect how your organs work. Parts of the body, including the tongue, can swell. Amyloidosis also can leave you dizzy, numb in the fingers or toes, and make your heart beat out of sync. Your doctor can diagnose this with tests on different tissues on your body.

by Web MD

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