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January 22, 2020

Swollen Taste Buds: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

by Guest Author

We sat down with Abbas Anwar, MD, to chat about why swollen taste buds occur and when to speak to your doctor about them.

What Causes Swollen Taste Buds?

Swollen taste buds, also known as inflamed papillae, can occur for a number of reasons. The papillae are small bumps on the tongue that contain taste buds, and when they become inflamed, they can appear swollen or enlarged, leading to discomfort or pain.

How common are swollen taste buds? What might they look or feel like, and are they usually quick to heal?

Swollen taste buds are relatively common since there are a variety of different conditions that can cause them. They often present as swollen red or white bumps that usually appear in the center or back of the tongue and are often tender or cause a burning sensation when you eat. They are usually quick to heal without any intervention and resolve within a few days to a couple weeks. If you notice them for more than 2-4 weeks or if they are growing, you should seek medical attention.

Although they’re usually no big deal, when should you consider talking to your doctor about swollen taste buds?

If the bumps are persistent and do not resolve within 2-4 weeks or continue to enlarge then you should see you physician. If there is bleeding associated with the lesions you should definitely consider discussing them with your doctor. Significant and persistent pain, difficulty moving your tongue, loose teeth, or unintended weight loss are also reasons to get medical attention.

What causes swollen taste buds, and what’s the best course of action for each cause?

There are a number of reasons and ways to take care of this issue:

Poor Oral Hygiene

Poor oral hygiene can lead to overgrowth and infection of taste buds with bacteria and viruses. Good oral hygiene must be practiced on a daily basis and includes brushing twice daily, flossing daily, and using mouth rinses.

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can also lead to overgrowth of bacteria. Staying hydrated is important.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is when acid from your stomach goes backwards up into the esophagus. Sometimes this acid can make its way all the way up to your mouth, which can cause burns on the tongue and swollen taste buds. Improving your diet by avoiding foods that can exacerbate reflux is the first step to treat this. That means avoiding hot/spicy foods, coffee caffeine, chocolate, soda, fatty foods, etc. In addition, do not lie down after eating for at least 2-3 hours. Anti-reflux medications are also available for patients that continue to have reflux despite observing these precautions.

Really Hot / Cold Foods

These can cause burns of the tongue and taste buds and cause them to swell. Of course, avoiding these foods would be the best step. If you already burned your tongue then using ice to help soothe it can help symptomatically, but in most cases this will resolve over the course of a few days.

Spicy Foods / Acidic Foods

This can exacerbate reflux which is treated as stated above. Very spicy foods like hot peppers or acidic foods like citrus fruits can also irritate the tongue themselves and cause them to swell.

Vitamin Deficiencies

Deficiency of essential vitamins like vitamin B, lack of iron and other nutrients may cause inflamed taste buds.

Transient Lingual Papillitis

This describes a harmless condition that causes small bumps at the back upper surface of the tongue. An exact cause is unknown but possible causes include stress, GI upset, smoking, hot/spicy foods. They typically resolve within a few days without any treatment.

Oral Cancer

Although very rare, oral cancer can sometimes present with swollen taste buds. Often this will present with a large bump that bleeds easily and is usually on the side of the tongue. Often they will be painful and make it difficult to eat. This is more common in smokers and heavy drinkers. If you notice a bump on the side of the tongue that does not resolve within 2 weeks and is growing you should consult your doctor.

Treating Swollen Taste Buds

For more information, contact Pacific Eye, Ear, & Skull Base Center or call at 310-829-7792.

Last updated: March 24th, 2023