Tongue bumps: Causes, when to see a doctor, and treatment

Tongue bumps have many possible causes. The mere presence of a bump on the tongue is rarely enough information on which to base a diagnosis. Some of the most common causes of tongue bumps include:

Tongue injuries

An injury to the tongue can make it look or feel bumpy. As with other areas of the body, the tongue may swell in response to an injury.

People who accidentally bite their tongues sometimes notice a swollen bump for a few days after the injury. Burns from hot liquids or foods are another common cause of tongue injuries.

Oral herpes

Herpes is a common viral infection, affecting about 60 percent of U.S. adults. Some people with oral herpes never experience symptoms. However, most people will develop cold sore blisters around their nose or mouth from time to time.

Some people also develop blisters on the tongue or gums. These blisters can be very painful and may last a week or more.

Oral herpes is contagious and can spread through saliva, direct contact with the infected area, or contact with the lining of the mouth and tongue. This can occur even when no symptoms are present.

Canker sores

Canker sores are among the most common causes of sores in the mouth. They often grow on the inside of the lips, but may also appear on the tongue. The sores tend to be red, white, or yellow in appearance and can feel raw and very painful.

Some people notice that certain foods seem to trigger canker sores. However, the cause of canker sores is still poorly understood.

Most canker sores go away on their own, but some may become very painful and necessitate a trip to the doctor.


Food intolerances and allergic reactions may cause bumps on the tongue or make it swell. Sudden, immediate swelling of the whole tongue could be a sign of a dangerous reaction known as anaphylaxis.

A person should seek immediate medical assistance if they are:

  • experiencing swelling of the lips, mouth, or tongue
  • developing a sudden rash or hives
  • wheezing or having any other breathing difficulties


Although rare, a bump on the tongue could be cancer. A tongue bump is more likely to be cancerous if it grows on the side of the tongue, particularly if it is hard and painless. It is worth consulting a doctor about any lump or bump that lasts longer than a week or two.


An infection in the mouth or on the tongue may cause swelling and pain at the site of the infection. If the tongue swells after being bitten or as a result of a significant injury, it is important to see a doctor.

Even a healthy mouth is full of bacteria. Any injury can make it easier for bacteria to get into the tissues of the tongue.

If the bump is very painful or comes with a fever, it is essential to see a doctor within 24 hours as this could be a sign of a serious infection.


Syphilis is a treatable but potentially life-threatening bacterial infection. People can contract the infection through direct contact with syphilis sores during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Some people with syphilis occasionally develop sores on the tongue as an early symptom of the disease. This is more common if the tongue is the site of infection, as is the case when syphilis spreads through oral sex.


Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. Some people with tuberculosis develop lesions and sores on their body. The sores can be anywhere, including on the tongue.

Tongue lesions due to tuberculosis are extremely rare, but they may be the first symptom of the disorder in a newly infected person.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth. Yeast is a type of fungus that commonly grows in moist, dark places. Babies, especially newborns, often develop oral thrush.

Other risk factors for developing oral thrush include:

  • diabetes
  • corticosteroids, including asthma inhalers
  • conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, organ transplantation, autoimmune diseases, and cancer
  • medications or conditions that cause dry mouth

Most people with oral thrush usually notice rough white patches on the tongue or the lips. There is often redness and a sore mouth as well.

Some people describe a cottony feeling in their mouth or a sensation of dryness. Others experience cracking near the lips, or pain when eating.

Transient lingual papillitis (lie bumps)

Transient lingual papillitis, also known also as lie bumps, is a temporary inflammation of the tongue’s papillae. These are the tiny bumps found on the upper surface of the tongue.

Lie bumps can be painful and may cause itching, extreme sensitivity, or a burning sensation on the tongue. They usually appear suddenly. The cause of lie bumps is poorly understood, but symptoms typically go away on their own after a few days.


Certain foods, such as sour candy or very acidic foods, can irritate the tongue, gums, and lips. This can result in hard or bumpy spots that last for a few days. If the area is sore and feels raw, recent dietary changes might be responsible.

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