Burning tongue: What can be behind it?

If the tongue temporarily burns and hurts, often spicy foods are to blame. However, permanent burning on the tongue is a tormenting symptom that can occur in the context of various diseases, drugs or for no apparent cause.

In case of tongue burn, comprehensive diagnostics are important in order to detect and treat potentially causative diseases. We have put together an overview of possible causes for you and give you tips on what to do against a burning tongue.

How does tongue burn?

The unpleasant sensation of a burning tongue usually arises when the nerve fibers responsible for pain and heat transmit a stimulus to the brain in the tongue. This is the case, for example, when we eat something hot or spicy.

In addition, various other substances can irritate the nerve fibers: For example, when smoking or eating pineapple, it can cause a burning sensation on the tongue. This is then a natural reaction of the body and not to be considered pathological.

Burning Mouth Syndrome: Chronic burning in the mouth

Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS) refers to chronic burning pain in the mouth for which no cause can be found. Often, the tongue burns front and side, also the palate, throat and gums may be affected. Some sufferers additionally suffer from dry mouth or taste disorders.

Most of the burning-mouth syndrome no change on the tongue is visible. Tongue, blisters, pimples or red spots, however, are often an indication of underlying diseases. Then the symptoms are referred to as secondary - ie caused by other diseases - tongue burning.

Burning tongue without cause

The Burning-Mouth syndrome is an independent disease, which affects about three to four percent of adults in Germany. The cause has not yet been adequately researched, but it is believed that it is a pathological change in the nerve fibers responsible for pain.

Women suffer from Burning Mouth Syndrome about seven times more often than men. Often the symptoms start with the onset of menopause. Stressful events or mental illnesses such as depression are also considered to be contributing factors to Burning Mouth Syndrome.

What is the cause of tongue burning?

However, a burning tongue can also occur in the context of various diseases or caused by other factors. In these cases one speaks of secondary or symptomatic tongue burning. Among others, the following causes can be behind it:

  • Allergy: A food allergy can manifest itself when burning the food by burning it on the tongue. Often there is also itching and a furry feeling in the mouth. Frequently, cross-allergies in hay fever are the cause.
  • Iron and vitamin deficiency: Tongue burning can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency. Thus, a deficiency of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or folic acid as well as iron deficiency can manifest itself through a burning tongue. Frequently affected are patients with celiac disease (gluten intolerance), in which the nutrient absorption in the intestine is reduced.
  • Dental Diseases: Poorly fitting prostheses, gingivitis, tooth decay, or other oral infections can cause burning sensation in the mouth and on the tongue.
  • Inflammation of the mouth: Inflammation or irritation of the oral mucosa often occurs as a result of chemotherapy or radiation. In addition, the frequent contact with acid - such as heartburn or eating-refractive addiction - lead to an oral mucositis.
  • Fungal infection: If the tongue burns and is covered, this may indicate an infection with a fungus (oral thrush). The white coating is strippable and can also occur on the palate and cheeks. Oral thrush is common in immunosuppression, such as chemotherapy or HIV infection.
  • Mouth rot: Painful or burning white blisters on the tongue may be a symptom of oral blight (stomatitis aphtosa). The disease is caused by a herpes virus infection and occurs especially in children and in people with weakened immune systems.
  • Medications: Various medications can cause tongue burns as a side effect. These include, for example, certain medicines for high blood pressure medicines (so-called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers), antidepressants, sedatives and some antibiotics and viral medicines.
  • Diabetes Mellitus: behind burning the tongue is often an unrecognized or poorly adjusted diabetes mellitus. Possible reason is the so-called diabetic neuropathy, in which it comes to discomfort such as pain, burning or tingling in various parts of the body due to nerve damage.
  • Neurological Disorders: Diseases associated with nerve damage, such as multiple sclerosis, may be the cause of tongue burn.
  • Autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus or systemic scleroderma can be associated with burning on the tongue and in the mouth. In Sjörgen syndrome, the production of saliva is reduced, which can lead to dry mouth and a burning tongue.
  • "Map tongue": In a so-called map tongue, there are irregular white and red spots on the tongue, reminiscent of the image of a map. In addition, tongue burning may occur. The cause of a map tongue is unknown, but the change is harmless.
  • "Tongue cancer": In very rare cases, a painful or burning change on the tongue may be an indication of a tumor (oral carcinoma).
  • Scarlet fever: In the case of scarlet fever, there is typically a white tongue coating at the beginning, later the tongue is bright red with red spots ("raspberry tongue"). Pain or burning on the tongue may accompany, but flu-like symptoms such as sore throat and difficulty swallowing are in the foreground.

Tongue Burning: When to the doctor?

If you suffer from unexplained burning of the tongue for several days or recurrently, you should have the symptoms cleared up by a doctor. This is also true if you notice visual changes on your tongue.

The question "who treats tongue burn?" is not easy to answer: depending on the cause, dentists, dermatologists, ENT doctors, neurologists, internists and psychosomatic doctors can be involved in the treatment. A good first point of contact is usually the family doctor - he knows you as a patient best and can refer you to a suitable specialist.

Healing with tongue burns?

The treatment of secondary tongue burn depends on the cause: If the trigger is treated successfully, the burning often disappears or at least improves.

The Burning-Mouth syndrome, however, has so far been curable by any therapy. However, spontaneous healing may occur: Approximately half of those affected disappear from burning on the tongue as suddenly as it has occurred.

Treatment of tongue burn: what helps?

To relieve the symptoms of a burning tongue, there are several treatment options available:

  • Mouthwashes or lozenges containing anti-inflammatory or topical anesthetics such as lidocaine may help with tongue burning. Even preparations with the active ingredient capsaicin have been found to be effective.
  • Saliva replacement products may be useful for dry mouth.
  • Alpha lipoic acid is used in diabetic neuropathy and has been proven in the treatment of tongue burns. The drug is available over the counter in the pharmacy.
  • Some antidepressants and antiepileptics are approved for the treatment of nerve pain and may be prescribed for treating the tongue. Antidepressants can also improve the symptoms of a positive effect on the psyche.
  • Clonazepam is a powerful tranquilizer that is used inter alia in epilepsy and may only be taken by a doctor. In severe cases of tongue burning, the drug can provide relief - possibly even the sole sucking a tablet with subsequent spitting can be effective.
  • Psychotherapy - especially the so-called cognitive behavior therapy - has proven to be very effective in treating the tongue. Among other things, patients learn how to approach the pain by controlling their thoughts and feelings.
  • In the field of alternative medicine, there are some remedies from homeopathy and Schuessler salts® that promise to help with tongue burns.

When asked how long tongue burns last, there is no universal answer. However, patience is usually required in the treatment: many of the drugs will only take effect after a few weeks.

What to do when the tongue burns?

In addition to the medical treatment, there are some home remedies for tongue burns. We have put together six tips for you, what you can do even with a burning tongue:

  1. Teas or tinctures with herbal ingredients such as sage, mallow leaves, lime blossom, marshmallow roots or aloe vera have a soothing effect.
  2. Gargling with salt water or ice cube slurries can provide relief.
  3. Drink enough to prevent dry mouth. Suitable drinks are, for example, still water or herbal tea. You should better avoid fruit juices - these can additionally irritate the tongue.
  4. Pay attention to a careful oral hygiene and try out which care products are good for you. Avoid alcoholic mouthwashes and use a mild toothpaste.
  5. Relaxation techniques such as autogenic training, meditation, or yoga can improve your mental health and thus help you deal with the pain.
  6. Support groups for patients with chronic pain provide support through exchanges with other stakeholders.

What to eat with tongue burn?

If you suffer from tongue burn, you should avoid foods that may cause irritation. These include, for example, sour fruits such as pineapple and citrus fruits as well as tomatoes, vinegar, carbonated drinks and coffee. Even spicy foods, alcohol and nicotine additionally irritate the oral mucosa and can intensify tongue burning.

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