Bumps on the Back of Your Tongue

What are Tongue Bumps? What Do They Look Like?

It's not unusual to have tongue bumps. Tongue bumps, also known as papillae, are generally common and cover the back of your tongue.1 

These bumps are usually unnoticeable because they have a consistent color and texture.

However, tongue bumps may sometimes look enlarged. 

While swollen papillae may be a temporary condition, it can make eating, talking, swallowing, or tasting food difficult or painful.

There are four types of tongue bumps:

  • Filiform papillae: small, cone-shaped bumps that cover about two-thirds of the tongue surface area. They are responsible for the sense of touch.
  • Foliate papillae: short, vertical folds found on the sides at the back of the tongue that contain numerous taste buds.
  • Fungiform papillae: club-shaped bumps that appear on the sides of the tongue. They are responsible for taste.
  • Circumvallate papillae: large, dome-shaped bumps found on the back edges of the tongue.

10 Causes of Bumps on the Back of the Tongue

Irregular bumps on the back of your tongue can develop for various reasons:

1. Injury 

A tongue injury may cause it to appear or feel rough. The tongue, like other parts of the body, may enlarge in response to an injury. 

People who unintentionally bite their tongues may have a swollen lump for a few days following the incident. Another frequent cause of tongue injuries are burns from hot drinks or meals.

2. Irritation

The tongue, gums, and lips may be irritated by certain foods or high-temperature foods such as sour, sweets, or very acidic foods. This may cause hard or rough patches to appear that persist for a few days. 

Recent dietary changes may also be responsible for the discomfort, especially if the area feels sore and raw.

3. Infections

Bacteria may be found in even the healthiest mouths. 

Any damage to the tongue may make it easier for bacteria to enter the tissues and cause an infection. 

Swelling and discomfort in the afflicted area may result from the infection. It's critical to visit a doctor if your tongue swells after being bitten or as a consequence of a serious injury.

4. Canker sores

Canker sores are one of the most common types of mouth infections.2 

They usually occur on the inside of the lips, although they may also show up on the tongue. The sores are typically red, white, or yellow, and may be rough and unpleasant. 

Most canker sores subside on their own. Others become very painful and may need medical attention.

5. Oral Thrush

Oral candidiasis or oral thrush is a yeast infection that affects the mouth and is characterized by bumps at the back of the tongue.3 

Some people report a cottony feeling or a sensation of dryness (dry mouth). The fungus responsible for this infection grows in moist and dark places and is common among newborns.

6. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis, abbreviated as TB, is a bacterial infection of the lungs.4 

Some TB patients develop blisters and sores on their bodies. Sores may appear everywhere on the body, including the tongue. 

Tuberculosis-related tongue lesions are very uncommon, although they may be the first sign of the disease in a newly infected individual.

7. Lie Bumps

Lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis (TLP), is a temporary inflammation of the tongue's papillae. These are small bumps that may be seen on the tongue's top surface. 

Itching, acute sensitivity, or a burning feeling on the tongue are all symptoms of lie bumps. 

Although their cause is not precisely known, lie bumps typically appear suddenly and go away without treatment.

8. Cancer

In rare cases, a bump on your tongue could be a sign of tongue cancer

If a tongue bump develops on the side of the tongue, it's more likely to be malignant, especially if it's hard and painless. A doctor should check out any lump or bump that lasts more than a week or two.

9. Allergies

Food intolerances and allergic reactions may cause swelling on the tongue and create bumps. 

If your entire tongue swells suddenly, it may be due to a serious condition known as anaphylaxis.5 

Seek immediate assistance if you experience swelling on the lips, tongue, and mouth, sudden rashes or hives, or difficulty breathing.

10. Syphilis

Syphilis is a contagious, curable but life-threatening bacterial infection.6 

Coming into direct contact with syphilitic sores during oral intercourse may cause infection. 

Early syphilis symptoms include sores on the tongue and mouth, especially when syphilis is transmitted through oral sex.

Other Symptoms That Accompany Tongue Bumps

Inflamed lumps on the tongue typically look bigger and swollen. They may also change color to white, bright pink, or black. 

Other symptoms of tongue bumps include:

  • Pain in the mouth or tongue when eating or swallowing
  • Cotton-mouth
  • White patches on the insides of the cheeks, the tongue, or the back of the throat
  • Bleeding from the bumps
  • Lump or swelling in the neck
  • Fever
  • Sickly feeling (malaise)
  • Trouble speaking or moving the tongue
  • Change or loss in taste sensation

When to See a Doctor for Tongue Bumps

You don't need to see your doctor if the bumps on your tongue aren't bothering you (and you don't have a fever). Most mouth bumps heal on their own

However, seek medical advice if you experience any of the following:

  • Symptoms lasting longer than one week
  • Rapidly growing, spreading, or bleeding bumps
  • Bumps keep returning after healing
  • Inability to eat or drink

Diagnosing & Treating Tongue Bumps

A doctor will first inquire about your medical history and any known allergies to determine what is causing your tongue bumps. 

They will do a tongue exam to check for changes in taste bud color, texture, size, and abnormalities to help guide therapy.7

Your physician may also order blood tests to rule out other problems such as infection or disease. 

If the doctor suspects cancer, they will send you to a specialist who will either conduct a biopsy or remove the bump entirely.

Although some causes of tongue bumps require medical attention, home remedies can help. These include:

  • Hydrating (drink through a straw if you have pain drinking normally)
  • Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water
  • Avoiding acidic and spicy foods and drinks that may irritate the mouth
  • Using topical numbing gels
  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Avoiding alcohol-based mouthwashes

When Should You Worry About Bumps on Tongue?

You should worry about bumps on your tongue if there is no improvement after trying home-based remedies. Keep an eye on the size, color, and spread of the tongue bumps while you treat them at home. If there is no improvement, or your condition worsens, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Prevention is the most effective kind of home care. Maintaining excellent dental hygiene may help prevent and treat inflammatory lumps on the back of your tongue.

Tips for Preventing Tongue Bumps

Good dental health may lower the chance of tongue bumps and cancer and keep lumps from becoming infected or painful. 

Maintain good oral hygiene by doing the following:

  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day
  • Use a stainless steel tongue scraper to remove bacteria from the tongue
  • Flossing at least once a day
  • Regular visits to the dentist (twice a year is recommended)
  • Avoiding acidic foods that irritate the tongue
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Avoiding sugary foods that increase the chances of tooth decay
  • Rinsing the mouth thoroughly after using medications such as steroids or inhalers

Bumps on Back of Tongue: Common Questions & Answers

Below are frequently asked questions about bumps at the back of the tongue:

Are bumps on the back of the tongue normal?

Bumps on the back of your tongue are normal. But if they become swollen or inflamed, there could be a reason to worry. 

However, in many cases, inflamed bumps heal on their own. Abnormal bumps on the back of your tongue may be due to tongue injury, infection, irritation, cancer, or allergies. 

If they persist, seek medical assistance. 

Can allergies cause bumps on the back of the tongue?

Yes, allergies, especially food-related allergies, are known to cause tongue bumps. 

If your entire tongue swells suddenly, it may be due to a serious condition known as anaphylaxis that requires immediate medical attention.

Is it normal to have bumps in the back of your throat?

Bumps on the back of your throat are not normal and may be a sign of infection or disease. Such bumps may result from a condition commonly known as cobblestone throat.8 

A cobblestone appearance is characterized by bumps that bulge from the surface of the throat and may vary in size.

Other potential causes of bumps on the back of the throat include syphilis, herpes, and strep infection.

What STD causes bumps on the tongue?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. Oral symptoms include bumps on the tongue, lips, and areas surrounding the mouth.

A person gets infected with syphilis when they come into direct contact with a syphilitic sore. 

Syphilitic bumps on the tongue are painless and may be difficult to spot, especially in the early stages of infection.

Can strep cause bumps on the back of the tongue?

Strep infection may lead to an inflammatory illness known as scarlet fever, characterized by a red and bumpy tongue, also known as strawberry tongue. 

Scarlet fever is most often seen in children or people who come into contact with them. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat this illness. 

Can COVID cause bumps on the tongue?

According to one study, a substantial percentage of COVID-19 patients experience bumps, inflammation, and swelling of the tongue.9 

However, this is not unusual, as viruses are known to cause changes in the mucous membrane (the moist inner lining) of some organs such as the respiratory organs.

Resources

Tongue problems,”U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Canker Sores,” Cleveland Clinic

Oral candidiasis: An overview,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), September 2014

Basic TB Facts,” U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Anaphylaxis,” American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

Oral findings in secondary syphilis,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 25 February 2018

The Oral Cavity and Associated Structures,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

Cobblestone Appearance of the Nasopharyngeal Mucosa,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), October 2017

Lymphoid hyperplasia” National Institute of Health (NIH)

Prevalence of mucocutaneous manifestations in 666 patients with COVID-19 in a field hospital in Spain: oral and palmoplantar findings,” British journal of Dermatology (BJD), 24 September 2020

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