Tongue swelling is a characteristic of different medical conditions. The swelling may be caused by enlargement of the tongue muscles or there may be an excess of fluid between the cells that build the tongue. Tongue enlargement can be acute when swelling may be associated with serious swallowing difficulties or chronic when the person adjusts to gradual enlargement of the organ.
Causes of Tongue Swelling
Allergies represent the most common cause of tongue swelling. A person may be allergic to different allergens. In allergic individuals who are prone to tongue swelling after the exposure to a specific allergen there is also a chance of even more severe allergic reactions such as additional lips and face swelling as well as swelling of the airway which can cause severe breathing difficulties or even death. In angioedema the swelling affects the dermis, subcutaneous tissue, mucosa and submucosal tissues. This is a rapid swelling that may represent a medical emergency due to quick airway obstruction and potential suffocation.
Apart from allergies tongue swelling may also occur in case of certain infections and medical conditions not-related to the tongue. For example, the tongue changes its appearance and is swollen in patients suffering from scarlet fever. Furthermore, patients suffering from Kawasaki disease have a strawberry-like tongue which is a bit swollen. Inflammation of the entire tongue may develop as a consequence of certain vitamin deficiencies (e.g. vitamin B12 deficiency). And finally, people who have undergone tongue piercing may develop infection and subsequent tongue swelling.
There are several more conditions associated with tongue swelling. In transient lingual papillitis the taste buds on the dorsal surface of the tongue enlarge due to inflammation. The condition does not cause serious or long-term problems. Tongue swelling is also characteristic for people suffering from hypothyroidism, amyloidosis, acromegaly and Down syndrome. And finally, some medications may cause tongue swelling as one of their side effects.
Treatment for Tongue Swelling
The very treatment for tongue swelling is determined by the underlying cause or medical condition that has led to the swelling. In some cases (tongue swelling caused by allergic reactions) the condition represents a medical emergency and requires prompt medical treatment. Only this way serious complications such as swallowing and breathing difficulties as well as potential lethal outcome can be timely prevented. In case of gradual enlargement patients slowly adjust. Fortunately, many times once the underlying condition is brought under control with suitable medications or other treatments the swelling gradually reduces and the tongue becomes of a normal size again.