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A healthy tongue is covered in taste buds. Each taste bud contains 50 to 100 sensory cells that help distinguish between nutritious food and potentially poisonous substances.1 When taste buds swell or become inflamed, pain and sensitivity can result that affect your quality of life.
Inflamed taste buds are common. They can result from eating spicy foods, conditions like dry mouth, and even stress. Transient lingual papillitis, the medical term for inflamed or enlarged papillae (taste buds), affects more than half the population at some point.3
Taste buds are constantly regenerating. You get new taste buds every 8 to 12 days.4 Therefore, swollen taste buds are typically only a temporary, minor concern.
Most of the time, a swollen taste bud goes away on its own. But if painful taste buds make it difficult to eat or drink, treatment is available.
Your taste buds regenerate every couple of weeks, so most swollen taste buds resolve quickly. You probably don’t need to see your healthcare provider unless:
Taste bud dysfunction can make eating food unenjoyable or even painful. Call your doctor if you’re experiencing unwanted weight loss or malnutrition due to swollen taste buds.
Your doctor can diagnose swollen taste buds by examining your mouth and reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They may also take lab tests to check for an infection, vitamin deficiency, or allergic reaction.
Depending on your needs, your primary care provider may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, also called an otolaryngologist. They may take a biopsy for lab testing if they suspect oral cancer.
Treatment for swollen taste buds depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause:
In many cases, you can treat swollen taste buds at home. Methods that may help ease your symptoms include:
Professional treatments focus on treating the underlying condition that’s making your taste buds swell.
These treatments can differ depending on the cause of the swollen taste buds and may include:
Swollen taste buds aren’t always preventable. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk:
Taste bud swelling usually resolves within a few days. Some people experience inflammation for a week or more.
Any symptoms that persist longer than two weeks may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.
Swollen taste buds have many possible causes; some are more serious than others. Some causes of inflamed taste buds include:
Nearly everyone has had the unpleasant experience of burning their tongue on hot food or drink. Burning your tongue can result in swollen taste buds. Make sure to let foods and beverages cool down before consuming them.
High temperature isn’t the only way food can inflame the tissues in your mouth. Eating spicy or acidic foods can also irritate your tongue.
Common examples include:
If you don’t brush and floss daily, bacteria, and plaque accumulate on your teeth. This can lead to various oral health problems, including inflamed, enlarged taste buds.
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is a common cause of tongue swelling. If your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva, it can lead to:
Staying hydrated is a key part of avoiding dry mouth. It’s also important to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth.
Certain foods, medications, and other substances can trigger an allergic reaction when they contact your tongue. The allergic reaction may appear as a swollen tongue or enlarged taste buds.
Swollen taste buds may be a sign of certain bacterial or viral infections. Scarlet fever, which occurs in some people with strep throat, can cause a red, swollen tongue.
GERD, or chronic acid reflux, is when stomach acid rises from your stomach into your esophagus. Sometimes, the acid gets into your mouth, burning your throat and tongue.
Cigarettes contain chemicals that irritate the tissues in your mouth, and irritation causes swollen taste buds. Smoking can also make your taste buds less sensitive. This can reduce the joy you experience from eating your favorite foods.
Rarely, swollen taste buds can be a sign of oral cancer. Typically, cancer will cause a bleeding ulcer or lump on the tongue, usually on the sides of the tongue or the floor of the mouth. Oral cancer is more common in heavy drinkers and smokers.
Insufficient amounts of certain nutrients, such as iron and vitamin B, can make your tongue swell.
Swollen taste buds usually appear as bright red or white bumps on the tongue. Other symptoms may include:
It’s very common to have a swollen taste bud. More than half the population experiences temporary taste bud swelling (transient lingual papillitis) at some point.
Many things can cause swollen taste buds, including poor dental hygiene and irritation from smoking, spicy or acidic foods, and stomach acid. The swelling usually goes away within a few days to a week.
Call your doctor if swollen or painful taste buds last more than two weeks or interfere with your quality of life.
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