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Swollen Tongue


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is a swollen tongue?

A swollen tongue is an abnormal condition in which the entire tongue or a portion of it is enlarged, bloated or distended. Your tongue is made up of muscles and the upper surface is lined with taste buds. Your tongue helps you to talk, swallow, taste and chew.

A swollen tongue can result from infection, inflammation, allergy, genetic disorders, trauma, malignancy, metabolic diseases, and other abnormal processes. A chronically swollen tongue over a long period of time can be due to acromegaly, sarcoma, oral cancer, or Down syndrome.

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If your tongue swells up rapidly, this could be a sign of an allergy or a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. An anaphylactic reaction is characterized by a swollen tongue (and swelling in general) combined with hives, itching, shortness of breath, and rapid breathing (more that about 16 breaths per minute for an adult). The reaction is sudden, severe, and can include respiratory distress. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 3, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Tongue problems. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Glossitis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Burket, LW, Greenburg, MS, Glick, M, Ship, JA. Neurogenic Lesions. In: Burket’s Oral Medicine. 11th ed. Hamilton, Ontario: BC Decker Inc; 2008:141.

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