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If you've ever burned your tongue, you know how painful it can be. Unfortunately, it's a common occurrence if you commonly eat or drink something too hot.
Tongue tissue is sensitive to extreme temperatures and can easily burn and injure.
Mild tongue burns may feel like a slight tingling or prickling feeling. More extensive burns can cause pain, swelling, redness, and blistering.
Burns on the tongue usually heal within 2 weeks but may lead to further problems in some cases. If you have a severe burn, seek immediate medical attention.1
Sometimes, people may feel like their tongue is burnt but haven’t experienced a physical injury. One potential cause is a chronic condition called burning mouth syndrome (idiopathic glossopyrosis). If a burning sensation doesn't go away, contact a doctor.
A burnt tongue has a specific cause, such as eating or drinking something too hot. You'll notice the burn immediately, and it usually resolves by itself.
Conversely, burning mouth syndrome (BMS) is a chronic condition that causes a burning sensation in the mouth without an apparent cause. People with BMS usually experience pain, numbness, and tingling in the mouth, along with altered taste.
The pain can be significant and distressing. It can affect any of the mouth's soft tissues, including the mouth's tongue, gums, lips, or roof. It often requires medication to ease symptoms.2
No single test can determine the presence of BMS. Instead, your doctor examines your mouth and reviews your medical history to rule out other issues. They may also ask about your dental hygiene routine, medications, and eating habits.
They may also order the following tests to help diagnose:3
Treatment for a burnt tongue involves cooling the area with ice or cool water, salt water rinses, and pain-relieving medication. Additionally, you should avoid hot foods and liquids until the burn heals.
There's no cure for BMS. Instead, treatment aims to control symptoms and ease mouth discomfort.
Treatment options may include:4
A tongue burn usually doesn't require a doctor’s attention and heals by itself. However, contact a doctor if it's severe or affects the areas at the back of the throat. Burns may cause swelling or interfere with breathing.
BMS typically requires medical attention and long-term management, as the symptoms can be severe enough to affect a person's quality of life. It can also lead to nutritional problems if someone stops or limits eating due to discomfort.
Because the tongue is so sensitive, a burn may feel much worse than it is. However, for most people, burns to the tongue are minimal and cause no lasting damage.
If a burn is significant, you may experience the following symptoms:1
Severe burns can become infected. Therefore, see a doctor for second-degree and third-degree burns.
If food or drink also burns the epiglottis (the flap of tissue that sits beneath the tongue at the back of the throat), it can become inflamed or swollen. In young children, this could potentially block airways.
So, seek urgent medical advice if you're concerned about a child's breathing or the injury's severity.
Burning your tongue can also damage your taste buds, leading to loss of taste and sensation. However, this is usually a short-term complication that recovers quickly.5
Here are five effective ways to help heal a burnt tongue:
Suck on ice chips and drink cold water to lower the burn temperature. This cooling effect eases irritation and discomfort and reduces swelling. It also keeps you hydrated and allows saliva to flow.
Avoid hot drinks and replace them with chilled versions like iced coffee or tea for a few days. This allows time to heal.6
Saltwater rinses may reduce inflammation and swelling from a burnt tongue. Salt is a natural antiseptic that may prevent harmful bacteria from causing an infection.
Studies show that rinsing your mouth with saltwater helps heal and support oral health.7
Make a salt rinse by adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water. Gently swish the mixture around your mouth several times a day to ease discomfort.
Honey naturally fights germs, as it's antimicrobial. It also speeds up recovery from burns and soothes the tissues.
Apply honey directly to your tongue and allow it to dissolve. Remember to brush your teeth afterward. Honey is high in sugar and can cause tooth decay.
Your tongue will feel tender for several days following a burn. Therefore, eating small bites of soft, cold foods will be more comfortable and help ease irritation. Ice cream, yogurt, and applesauce are good choices.
When you're ready to resume eating and drinking hot foods and beverages, take tiny bites and small sips to avoid irritation. Avoid spicy foods until the burn fully heals.
You can use over-the-counter pain-relieving medications with home remedies. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are good options to reduce inflammation. Follow the dosage instructions.
Testing the temperature of hot drinks and foods before consumption can help prevent future burns.
Exercise particular caution when heating foods in the microwave. Foods do not always heat evenly, and they may be hot in some places and cooler in others.
Consuming hot foods and drinks can cause a burnt tongue. Although most tongue burn symptoms are minor, they can be extremely painful for several days. But, they usually heal by themselves in a couple of weeks.
Sometimes, complications such as infection or a temporary loss of taste and feeling can occur.
If a tongue burn is severe or the sensation has no apparent cause, seek medical help. A chronic problem called burning mouth syndrome causes similar sensations and requires a medical diagnosis and treatment.
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