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Alternative Names Return to topTongue inflammation; Tongue infection; Smooth tongue
Definition Return to top
Glossitis is a condition in which the tongue is swollen and changes color. Finger-like projections on the surface of the tongue (called papillae) are lost, causing the tongue to appear smooth.
See also: Geographic tongue
Causes Return to top
Changes in the appearance of the tongue may be a primary condition (not due to another disease or event), or it may be a symptom of other disorders (a secondary condition).
Glossitis occurs when there is acute or chronic inflammation of the tongue.
Occasionally, glossitis can be inherited.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
An examination by a dentist or health care provider shows a swollen tongue (or patches of swelling).
Finger-like projections on the surface of the tongue (called papillae) may be absent.
Your health care provider may ask detailed questions about your medical history and lifestyle to determine the possible source of tongue inflammation, if injury or other cause is not easily identified.
Blood tests may be done to rule out other medical conditions.
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation. Treatment usually does not require hospitalization unless tongue swelling is severe.
Good oral hygiene is necessary, including thorough tooth brushing at least twice a day, and flossing at least once a day.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone may be given to reduce tongue inflammation. For mild cases, a prednisone mouth rinse (that is not swallowed) may be recommended instead of swallowed or injected corticosteroids.
Antibiotics, antifungal medications, or other antimicrobials may be prescribed if the glossitis is due to an infection.
Dietary changes and supplements are used to treat anemia and nutritional deficiencies.
Avoid irritants (such as hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and tobacco) to reduce any tongue discomfort.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Glossitis usually responds well to treatment if the cause of inflammation is removed or treated. This disorder may be painless, or it may cause tongue and mouth discomfort. In some cases, glossitis may result in severe tongue swelling that blocks the airway.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms of glossitis persist for longer than 10 days.
Call your health care provider if tongue swelling is severe or breathing, speaking, chewing, or swallowing is difficult.
Blockage of the airway is an emergency situation that requires immediate medical attention.
Prevention Return to top
Good oral hygiene (thorough tooth brushing and flossing and regular professional cleaning and examination) may help prevent glossitis.Update Date: 3/3/2009 Updated by: James L. Demetroulakos, M.D., F.A.C.S., Department of Otolaryngology, North Shore Medical Center, Salem, MA. Clinical Instructor in Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.