Tongue bumps are common, and possible causes include injuries, allergies, and infections. Tongue bumps are usually harmless, but some indicate an underlying condition that needs medical treatment.

Some people with bumps on their tongue may worry about cancer, but oral cancers are relatively rare. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing oral cancer is around 1 in 60 males and 1 in 141 females.

This article looks at the causes and symptoms of tongue bumps. It also explains when to see a doctor, treatment options, and the outlook.

Tongue bumps have many possible causes, including:

1. Tongue injuries

An injury to the tongue can make it look or feel bumpy. As with other parts of the body, the tongue may swell in response to an injury.

People who accidentally bite their tongues sometimes notice a swollen bump for a few days after the injury. Burns from hot liquids or foods are another common cause of tongue injuries.

Read more about biting the tongue.

2. Oral herpes

Herpes is a common, contagious, viral infection Most people will develop cold sore blisters around their nose or mouth from time to time.

Some people also develop blisters on the tongue or gums. These blisters can be very painful and may last a week or more.

Herpes is not curable, but antiviral medications can help prevent further outbreaks.

Find out what herpes looks like.

3. Canker sores

Canker sores are common across all ages. They often grow on the inside of the lips but may also appear on the tongue. The sores may be red, white, or yellow in appearance and can feel raw and painful.

Some people notice that certain foods trigger canker sores. However, experts are not sure of the exact cause.

Most canker sores go away on their own, but some may become very painful, and a person may wish to consult a doctor.

Learn more about canker sores.

4. Allergies

Food intolerances and allergic reactions may cause bumps on the tongue or make it swell. Sudden, immediate swelling of the whole tongue could be a sign of a dangerous reaction called anaphylaxis.

A person should seek immediate medical assistance if they:

  • experience swelling of the lips, mouth, or tongue
  • develop a sudden rash or hives
  • are wheezing or having breathing difficulties

5. Infections

An infection in the mouth or on the tongue may cause swelling and pain at the site of the infection. If the tongue swells after being bitten or due to a significant injury, it is important to see a doctor.

Even a healthy mouth is full of bacteria. Any injury can make it easier for bacteria to get into the tissues of the tongue.

If the bump is very painful or a person develops a fever, it is essential to see a doctor within 24 hours as this could be a sign of a serious infection. Most bacterial infections require antibiotics.

6. Transient lingual papillitis (lie bumps)

Transient lingual papillitis, or lie bumps, is a temporary inflammation of the tongue’s papillae. These are the tiny bumps on the upper surface of the tongue.

Certain foods, such as sour candy or very acidic foods, can irritate the tongue, gums, and lips, and cause lie bumps.

Lie bumps can be painful and may cause itching, extreme sensitivity, or a burning sensation on the tongue. They usually appear suddenly and go away without treatment after a few days.

7. Syphilis

Syphilis is a treatable but potentially life threatening bacterial infection. People can contract the infection through direct contact with syphilis sores during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Some people with syphilis develop sores on the tongue as an early symptom. This is more common if the tongue is the site of infection, which happens when syphilis spreads through oral sex.

Tongue lesions due to tuberculosis are extremely rare, but they may be one of the first symptoms.

8. Cancer

Although rare, a bump on the tongue could be cancer. A tongue bump is more likely to be cancerous if it grows on the side of the tongue, particularly if it is hard and painless. It is worth consulting a doctor about any lump or bump that lasts longer than a week or two.

Individuals up to the age of 26 should consider getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV is linked to oral and genital cancer.

To determine the cause of tongue bumps, a doctor will examine them and ask about the person’s medical history, including any food allergies.

A doctor may order a blood test to rule out infections such as syphilis and tuberculosis. If the doctor suspects cancer, they may recommend a biopsy or removal of the lump.

Treatment depends on the cause of the tongue bumps.

Many medical conditions can weaken the immune system and make tongue bumps more likely, so treatment may also include testing for other conditions, such as diabetes. Proper management of these conditions can reduce the risk of tongue bumps returning.

Regardless of the cause of the bumps, some home remedies may help. They include:

  • avoiding acidic and spicy foods until the bumps disappear
  • drinking plenty of water
  • gargling with warm salt water and baking soda mouth rinses regularly
  • applying over-the-counter (OTC) topical remedies to reduce pain, such as canker sore medication or oral numbing gels
  • avoiding alcohol-based mouthwashes until the bumps disappear

Practicing good oral hygiene can reduce the risk of tongue bumps and cancer and help prevent bumps from getting infected or becoming painful.

Learn more about oral hygiene.

Unless tongue bumps cause intense pain or the person also has a fever, they may not need to see a doctor.

If symptoms persist over a week, it is best to see a doctor. A growing tongue bump that does not disappear could indicate a more serious condition.

If people have painful tongue bumps that keep coming back, they should also see a doctor.

If someone has a swollen tongue and experiences breathing problems, they should seek immediate medical assistance.

Below are some common questions about tongue bumps.

Is it normal to have bumps on the tongue?

Tongue bumps do not always indicate a health condition. Someone might get a bump on their tongue after an injury, such as biting the tongue.

However, if tongue bumps are painful, keep coming back, or grow, they could indicate an underlying condition.

What virus causes bumps on the tongue?

The herpes simplex virus type 1 can cause oral herpes, which can result in blisters on the tongue and around the mouth.

Can someone get rid of bumps on the tongue?

Home remedies, such as keeping the mouth clean, avoiding acidic food, and OTC topical medication, can help to get rid of tongue bumps. However, some tongue bumps will need proper treatment from a doctor, such as prescription antiviral medication.

What do bumps on the back of the tongue mean?

Bumps on the back of the tongue could indicate injury, infection, allergies, or something else. People should speak with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis.

Most tongue bumps appear without obvious cause and go away on their own. They may come back months or years later or never occur again. In either case, tongue bumps should rarely be cause for concern.

If symptoms persist or worsen, or tongue bumps are very painful, a person should see a doctor.

Good oral hygiene and avoiding irritants can help prevent tongue bumps. OTC medications and home remedies may reduce symptoms and speed healing.

Read the article in Spanish.