Inflammation of the tongue, making it smooth, red, and swollen

  • Alcohol abuse and smoking are risk factors
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) is usually a temporary condition that heals quickly with treatment. The most common cause of glossitis is an injury to the tongue, which can be due to ill-fitting dentures, roughened teeth, or scalding liquids. Smoking, eating spicy foods, and excessive alcohol intake may cause mild irritation and inflame the tongue. Glossitis may also be the primary symptom of a fungal infection such as candidiasis or a viral infection such as herpes simplex infection. In some cases, the tongue becomes inflamed as a result of a deficiency of iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid in the diet. Rarely, some people find that particular oral hygiene products, such as mouthwashes, breath fresheners, and toothpastes, cause an allergic reaction in the mouth, which leads to inflammation of the tongue.


This tongue has inflammation (glossitis), along with thick furring and ulceration, as a result of herpes simplex infection.

What are the symptoms?

In many cases, the symptoms of glossitis develop gradually. With time, the tongue may become:

  • Painful, swollen, and tender.

  • Smooth and red.

  • Furred.

  • Dotted with multiple small ulcers.

  • Cracked.

In cases of glossitis caused by damage from scalding liquids, a viral infection, or an allergic reaction, the symptoms often develop rapidly. Swallowing and speaking may become painful. Other symptoms may also be present in addition to a swollen tongue, depending on the cause. For example, you may have ulcers on your tongue if you have a herpes simplex infection, or if you have candidiasis, you may have sore patches that are creamy-yellow or white.

What might be done?

Your doctor may take swabs from the tongue to identify an infection. A blood sample may also be taken to look for mineral or vitamin deficiencies.

Whatever the cause, you can relieve the discomfort by rinsing your mouth with antiseptic or pain-relieving mouthwashes. It should also help if you stop smoking and avoid acidic and spicy foods that exacerbate the soreness. In many cases, the symptoms clear up without a cause being identified. However, if a clear diagnosis is made, specific treatment for the infection is usually effective. For example, if your condition is caused by candidiasis, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal drug, such as miconazole in an oral gel form.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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