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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit and Physician Lim Sock Ling on August 2, 2022

Cat Got Your Tongue? How To Reduce A Swollen Tongue

A swollen tongue can develop when you bite it or eat something hot. But what happens if it occurs for no apparent reason? Learn the possible causes and remedies here.

Swollen tongue min scaled

Have you ever bit your tongue and dealt with a swollen tongue for a few days? What about if your tongue swells for no apparent reason?

A swollen tongue can make it hard to eat and talk. It may also indicate problems inside the body that might not be obvious.

In this guide, we will explain why your tongue might be swollen and what it indicates about your health. Plus, you’ll learn how to get the swelling to go down.

What Causes A Swollen Tongue?

Food allergies or an allergic reaction to something you put in your mouth, such as toothpaste, can cause a swollen tongue.

The medical term for a swollen tongue is glossitis. In addition to the swelling, your tongue may also itch or appear smooth, tender, and pale or bright red in color. In some cases, spots may appear on your tongue.

The condition rarely develops by itself. There is usually an underlying reason. Common examples include:

  • Allergic reaction: Food allergies or an allergic reaction to mouthwash, toothpaste, or certain medication may cause swelling.
  • Skin conditions and infections: Pemphigus, oral psoriasis, oral lichen planus, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and yeast infections may cause your tongue to swell.
  • Injury: Burning or biting your tongue, dental work, and piercings may cause a swollen tongue.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Deficiencies in B vitamins and iron can cause your tongue to swell.
  • Specific diseases: Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that may cause tongue swelling. Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a central nervous system disorder also known to cause a fissured tongue. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), kidney disease, and cancer may cause it, too.

Tongue Swelling, According To TCM

According to Physician Lim Sock Ling, observing the tongue is an important diagnostic method in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). “Your tongue condition reflects the state of your internal organ systems as it is connected to these organs via the meridian system,” stated Physician Lim.

A TCM physician will observe the shape, color, and coating of the tongue to help diagnose your syndrome more accurately. In general, the shape of the tongue reflects the state of Qi and Blood.

“Color represents the condition of the Blood, Yin, Yang, Qi, and fluids. The coating reflects the extent to which external pathogens invade the body. It also differentiates whether it is excessive or deficient in nature,” stated Physician Lim. 

Causes and symptoms of a swollen tongue

A TCM physician can help identify the cause behind your swollen tongue.

A swollen tongue is associated with Dampness and can imply either excess or deficient. A swollen tongue that is pale or has teeth marks indicates Spleen Qi or Yang Deficiency. It is a common symptom of digestive problems.

This condition commonly appears with loose or sticky stools, a bloated stomach, poor appetite, and lethargy. If you have a Yang Deficiency, your limbs will be cold. You may also experience lower backache, lethargy, depression, or low libido

A red swollen tongue implies Heart and Spleen Heat. A yellow-greasy coating further infers the presence of Damp Heat. It’s often seen in individuals who experience chronic inflammatory conditions and skin problems. There could also be fever, muscle aches, acne, extreme thirst, irritability, sticky stool, and anger issues present. 

How Can TCM Help Reduce A Swollen Tongue?

Cooling herbs can be used for a swollen, red tongue. Here are 11 cooling herbs with anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that may help:

  • Scutellaria baicalensis (Huang Qin) 
  • Coptis chinensis (Huang Lian
  • Flos Lonicerae (Jin Yin Hua
  • Forsythia suspensa (Lian Qiao
  • Isatidis Folium (Da Qin Ye
  • Radix Isatidis (Ban Lan Gen
  • Viola yedoensis (Zi Hua Di Din
  • Pulsatilla Radix (Bai Tou Wen
  • Andrographis paniculata (Chuan Xin Lian
  • Houttuynia cordata (Yu Xing Cao
  • Patrinia Herba (Bai Jian Cao

You may also take American Wild Ginseng and Tian Qi to help reduce swelling and pain. These herbs work by promoting Qi and Blood flow.

On the anterior aspect of the lower leg, 4 fingers-breadth below the outer depression of the knee joint, one finger-breadth (middle finger) from the anterior crest of the tibia.

Acupuncture can be coupled with cooling herbs to treat swollen tongues with teeth marks. The Zu San Li (ST36) acupoint is commonly used to invigorate Qi and strengthen the digestive system. This treatment can be coupled with herbal formulas such as Si Shen soup, Si Jun Zi soup, and Shen Ling Bai Zhu powder.

Final Thoughts

Seek medical attention if your swollen tongue lasts longer than 10 days. You should also see a doctor if the condition prevents you from speaking, eating, or breathing properly.

Always work with a medical professional or TCM physician before taking any herbs or medications. Never try to self-medicate. Remember, determining the cause of your swollen tongue is imperative for proper treatment.

References

  1. National Library of Medicine (NIH). 2022. Glossitis.
  2. ScienceDirect. 2022. Glossitis.
  3. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2014. Anti-inflammatory and Antimicrobial Effects of Heat-clearing Chinese Herbs: A Current Review.
  4. Clinical and Molecular Allergy. 2016. Unmet diagnostic needs in contact oral mucosal allergies.
  5. International Journal of General Medicine. 2020. Management Strategies of Melkersson-Rosenthal Syndrome: A Review.
  6. CMAJ. 2012. Lingua plicata.

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