What causes enlarged papillae on the tongue? Should you be worried about it? Enlarged or inflamed tongue papillae are common and often harmless. In this article, let’s discuss the possible causes and appropriate treatments for swollen papillae on the tongue.
Your tongue papillae (singular papilla) are the tiny, nipple-like projections that give your tongue its coarse texture. Each papilla has thousands of taste buds, which give you the ability to taste sweet, bitter, savory (or umami), sour, and salty. Once your tongue papillae are swollen, it impairs your sense of taste and could lead to other complications that may require medical intervention.
So what are the possible reasons for inflamed papillae?
- 1 Possible Causes of Enlarged Tongue Papillae
- 2 Ways to Treat Enlarged Papillae At Home
- 2.1 Suck on lemon-chamomile ice cubes
- 2.2 Chewing sugarless gum may prevent heartburn and acid reflux symptoms
- 2.3 Eat the proper amount of niacin-rich foods every day
- 2.4 Gargle with saltwater regularly
- 2.5 Instead of salt, try this guava leaf mouthwash
- 2.6 Try aloe vera juice or gel to ease the pain and inflammation
- 2.7 Stay away from anything that could aggravate enlarged papillae
- 2.8 Conclusion
Possible Causes of Enlarged Tongue Papillae
Scarlet fever is a rare and highly contagious illness that mainly affects children between the ages two and ten. This childhood illness is due to a group of germs called Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, which lives in the throat and on the skin.
Signs and symptoms:
- Distinctive pink-red rash
- High fever (38.3°C and above)
- Sore throat
- Whitish substance covering the tongue
- Red bumps on the tongue called strawberry tongue
- Swollen tongue
Scarlet fever used to be a serious illness. Nowadays, it’s easy to treat through antibiotics therapy. If you suspect your child has this illness, make sure to consult your doctor as soon as you can. If left untreated, it may complicate and damage the kidneys, heart, and other body organs.
In other cases, enlarged papillae could be an allergic response to certain medicines or food. The tongue bumps may appear anywhere on the tongue, but they tend to be bigger in size near the back of the tongue.
The severity of the allergic reaction will usually depend on the amount of food or medicine you have consumed. For mild cases, an oral anti-allergy drug is often enough to solve the problem. For severe cases, prompt medical treatment is required, especially if a person finds it difficult to breathe or swallow.
Kawasaki disease is an illness that causes inflammation of the arteries (thick tubes that carry oxygenated blood from the heart). It’s most prevalent among Korean and Japanese children under the age of five.
Children with this illness may experience rashes, severe red eyes without discharges, high fever (39°C or 102.2°F), inflamed throat and mouth, and red bumps on the tongue (commonly referred to as “strawberry tongue”).
Children can expect to recover from Kawasaki disease after a few days if prompt and effective medical treatment is given. But when it’s left untreated, it could lead to serious and long-lasting damage to the heart.
Mouth Fungal Infections
A mouth fungal infection happens when fungi that normally live inside the mouth start to multiply abnormally, usually due to a compromised immune system. This type of infection doesn’t usually show any symptoms. However, as it progresses, it may cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Tongue spots or bumps, which may bleed if scraped
- Plaques (white patches) inside the mouth
- Mouth and throat redness
- Swallowing difficulties
- Bad taste in the mouth or impaired taste
Untreated mouth fungal infection will most likely affect other body parts, like your intestines, liver, heart, and lungs. It may even return after it’s treated. Always seek medical advice if you suspect you have this condition to prevent systemic fungal infection.
Deficiency of Certain Vitamins
Your tongue is a good indicator of your nutritional status. When your tongue and papillae become bright red and swollen, it’s most likely due to vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency, which causes broken blood vessels in the tongue. Other symptoms of mild vitamin B3 deficiency are canker sores, extreme exhaustion, indigestion, depression, and vomiting.
Enlarged papillae could be due stomach acid regurgitation. Acids and enzymes from the stomach are harsh, thus swelling of the papillae could happen. If you’re experiencing acid reflux, one of the first things you could do to find relief is to make a few simple changes in your lifestyle and diet.
Eating a Lot of Acidic Foods
Eating large amounts of acidic foods could be another reason for enlarged papillae. The excessive amount of acid could irritate the tongue, possibly causing taste buds to swell and itch. If your tongue becomes itchy, avoid scratching it against your tongue because it would make the swelling worse.
Examples of acidic fruits:
Women are more susceptible to this problem because of their menstrual cycle. These fluctuations of hormone levels can adversely affect the immune system and make tissues extra sensitive. For instance, a sudden increase in progesterone hormones could lead to canker sores, gum bleeding, and enlarged papillae. Unless there’s an underlying health problem, these hormonal shifts are usually not a cause of alarm.
Transient Lingual Papillitis
Transient lingual papillitis, or better known as ‘lie bumps,’ is a common condition that causes one or several raised and painful bumps on the tongue (usually near the tip). Sometimes, these bumps may produce burning or itchy sensations on the tongue. Transient lingual papillitis will resolve after two days, but it may recur after a few weeks, months, or years.
Anther reason for raised and painful papillae is direct physical irritation. This can happen when you bite your tongue accidentally, eat or drink something hot and spicy, smoke cigarettes, drink alcoholic beverages, use harsh oral hygiene products, pierce your tongue, or use rough tongue cleaning techniques. These things could lead to tongue discoloration, swollen taste buds, and bleeding.
Ways to Treat Enlarged Papillae At Home
The appropriate treatment will highly depend on the root cause and symptoms. Normally, you don’t have to undergo any extensive medical treatment for inflamed papillae. But if your condition becomes worse or symptoms that are more serious occur, consult your doctor immediately to get the right evaluation and treatment.
Here are some home remedies you can try to ease the symptoms of swollen and painful papillae:
Suck on lemon-chamomile ice cubes
As you might know, ice will help numb the affected area temporarily. Chamomile is a great herb to add to this home remedy because it helps treat allergy symptoms, inflammation, and sores.  On the other hand, lemon juice is a natural astringent, which means it can reduce swelling and stop bleeding (if there’s any).
- 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers
- 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice
- 8 ounces of distilled or tap water
- Pour 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers and 8 ounces of freshly boiled water into a mug with a lid.
- Steep for around 5 minutes then strain. Allow it to cool.
- Mix the lemon juice and chamomile tea, and then pour the mixture into your ice cube tray. Don’t use too much lemon juice because it might irritate your tongue further.
- Freeze until it becomes solid.
You can suck on a piece of lemon-chamomile ice cube 3 to 4 times a day.
Caveat: Chamomile tea is usually safe to consume. But if you’re allergic to ragweed, dandelion, echinacea, sunflower, feverfew, arnica, calendula, and other plants in the Asteraceae family, you’re most likely allergic to chamomile.
Chewing sugarless gum may prevent heartburn and acid reflux symptoms
It might sound surprising, but chewing sugarless gums may actually provide relief from certain digestive problems, like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and heartburn. It helps in three ways:
- It naturally stimulates saliva flow through the taste of the sugarless gum and the act of chewing. And it seems spearmint-flavored gums are the best for this job, according to a study. 
- It makes saliva more alkaline, which neutralizes the acid in the stomach. Try cinnamon and spearmint-flavored gums.
- Lastly, it acts as an aid in forcing the acid back into the stomach.
In one study, researchers divided 36 people into two groups: the healthy group and the GERD group. The result showed that chewing sugarless gum for half an hour after eating a big breakfast helped lower the incident of acid reflux in both groups for a maximum of 3 hours. 
Participants of another study had to fast for 4 hours before the researchers gave them a GERD-inducing, high-fat meal. After two hours of monitoring, researchers discovered that the participants have significantly lower acid levels when they chewed gum compared to when they did not chew gum. 
Caveat: Chewing gum could be bad for your teeth. It may increase cavities and damage the hard, protective coating of your teeth. Make sure to choose sugar-free gums containing xylitol.
Eat the proper amount of niacin-rich foods every day
As discussed earlier, one possible cause of swollen papillae is vitamin deficiency, particularly niacin. This type of deficiency rarely happens in the United States, but it’s still important to pay attention to your diet. Your body doesn’t store niacin, so it’s important to get enough of it every day through the foods you eat.
The best sources of niacin are fortified grains, meats, and meat alternatives. Here are some examples:
- Liver (beef, pork, chicken, turkey)
- Back bacon
- Cottage cheese
- Soy drinks
- Soy burger
- Pumpkin seeds (without shell)
- Instant oatmeal
- Whole wheat bread
Gargle with saltwater regularly
Salt offers different benefits. For one, it eases inflammation thanks to its magnesium content.  It makes it hard for germs to grow and thrive because it creates an alkalinic environment, which is especially helpful if your papillae are infected. A good thing about saltwater is it’s not irritating because it contains the same mineral and salt concentration as our bodies.
- ½ teaspoon of sea salt or table salt
- 1 glass of warm water
- Mix all the ingredients together. Stir until the salt has dissolved completely.
- Gargle for one full minute. Do this twice or thrice a day.
Instead of salt, try this guava leaf mouthwash
Guava leaf contains anti-inflammatory compounds, like lycopene, which reduce inflammation by preventing the release of histamine, kinins, and prostaglandins.  It also contains the flavonoid quercetin that could help fight harmful germs.
- 3 to 5 guava leaves
- 18 ounces of tap water
- Boil the young guava leaves in 18 ounces of water for 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t boil them too long because the resulting concoction could taste bitter.
- Remove from the heat, and then strain.
- Once it has cooled down, use it to gargle for one whole minute.
Try aloe vera juice or gel to ease the pain and inflammation
Most people use aloe vera to promote healing and ease the pain and inflammation associated with canker sores.  If you suffer from enlarged tongue papillae, you can apply aloe vera gel on each bump or gargle with a special aloe vera-based mouth rinse daily to find relief.
Basic Aloe Vera Mouthwash:
- ½ teaspoon of lemon juice
- 4 ounces of aloe vera juice
- 2 drops of tea tree oil
- Simply combine all the ingredients, and then gargle with it for a minute.
Stay away from anything that could aggravate enlarged papillae
To end your agony sooner, stay away from anything that could make it worse. If you’re a smoker, consider weaning from this bad habit, especially if you keep getting painful tongue bumps. Don’t apply too much force when cleaning your tongue. Refrain from alcoholic beverages or foods that are spicy or acidic—at least for the meantime.
Normally, you don’t have to worry about enlarged papillae. They would usually go away without any treatment. However, if you keep getting them or more of your taste buds become inflamed or infected, speak with your doctor to get the appropriate medication and treatment options.