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General Medical Questions
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Question : My tongue is red and tingly. What could this mean?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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July 20, 2011
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A:

Your tongue is likely inflamed. Doctors call this glossitis.

Many things can irritate the surface of your tongue. This includes:

  • Tobacco products
  • Tooth paste
  • Mouth wash
  • Spicy foods

Have you started any new medicines, supplements, or herbs? Although unusual, an allergic or toxic reaction to one of these can be localized to the tongue. Your pharmacist might be able to help you determine if this might be the reason.

Does your tongue become red and tingly only after you eat or a drink a specific food or beverage?

If none of the above applies to you and your symptoms continue, call your doctor. Possible causes include:

  • A yeast infection (thrush) – usually you would see a white coating on parts of the tongue
  • A virus infection, such as oral herpes
  • Non-infected ulcers called aphthous stomatitis
  • A vitamin or mineral deficiency, especially a B12 or iron deficiency
  • A very dry mouth because of decrease saliva production (from medication or part of Sjögren’s syndrome)

Your doctor will inspect your tongue to make sure there are no abnormal growths. But this would be a very rare reason for a red, tingling tongue.

Often, no specific cause is found. In that case, the treatment is to avoid all possible irritants, floss with plain floss and brush your teeth with plain or lightly salted water.

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