Itchy Tongue: Common Causes and Tips for Relief

Have you ever had an itching sensation on your tongue? It’s a rather odd feeling that can be annoying and extremely uncomfortable. There are many reasons for an itchy tongue, but how do you know if you should worry about it? Let’s go over some potential causes, possible treatments, and warning signs you should not ignore with an itchy tongue.

Why is my tongue itchy?

Many things can cause an itchy tongue. Some are generally harmless occurrences that sporadically appear for a brief period of time. Others can be a red flag of something more serious. Here are some of the most common causes:

Allergies

Tingling or itching in the mouth is often an indicator of a food allergy. Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) is an allergic reaction that occurs after eating food such as fruits, nuts, and some vegetables. With OAS, the immune system recognizes pollen and foods with similar proteins and causes an allergic response. Thus, OAS is also called pollen-food allergy syndrome, pollen-food syndrome, or pollen-associated.

Unlike other food allergies, OAS is usually limited to the oral mucosa, lips, tongue, and throat. OAS reactions vary from person to person, but studies suggest they are common in women and those who also suffer from seasonal allergies.

Geographic tongue

Geographic tongue is a chronic, inflammatory oral condition that can cause tongue lesions and fissures (grooves on the tongue's surface). The exact cause of geographic tongue is not known, but studies link it to both allergic reactions and psoriasis. Psoriasis is a common chronic inflammatory skin disease characterized by itchy, scaly, and red patches of skin.

Geographic tongue commonly exhibits similar lesions (smooth, red sores) in the mouth. These lesions tend to change location, pattern, and size over time but most commonly affect the back and side edges of the tongue. Some forms of geographic tongue may cause itching, burning, or sensitivity to spicy foods.

Burning mouth syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is a chronic burning sensation that occurs in an otherwise healthy oral cavity. It can be difficult to diagnose and very frustrating. BMS is often multifactorial and is often a symptom of a more complex medical issue. Symptoms come and go but include burning, itching, and numbness in the tongue.

Nutritional deficiency

Some nutritional deficiencies can cause an itchy tongue. Vitamin B12 is important in maintaining oral health. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include glossitis (inflammation of the tongue, which may cause itchiness), recurrent ulcers, and sores at the corner of the mouth. Many patients with a vitamin B12 deficiency have a history of gastric cancer. However, there are other causes of this deficiency, like pernicious anemia (a disorder of the immune system causing low vitamin B12 levels), gastritis, thyroid disease, and some medications.

Oral thrush

Fungal infections can affect the mouth. Oral candidiasis, or oral thrush, is the most common fungal infection of the oral cavity. It occurs when the normal flora in the mouth is disrupted enough to allow an overgrowth of yeast. The elderly, nursing infants, and immunocompromised populations are more often affected. Antibiotic use and cancer treatments can increase the risk as well.

Oral candidiasis infections may be asymptomatic. However, some thrush infections cause white or yellow plaques on the roof of the mouth, cheeks, and tongue. Smooth, red patches on the tongue are common as well. Often, these patches are accompanied by a mild burning and itching sensation.

Glossitis

Glossitis is an inflammatory condition of the tongue that causes redness, swelling, and pain. Median rhomboid glossitis is a type of glossitis characterized by a smooth, shiny, red lesion that appears in the middle of the tongue. Men are affected more often than women. Some studies associate median rhomboid glossitis with a type of candidal infection. Most people can be asymptomatic with glossitis, but burning or itching is possible in many cases.

How to prevent the tongue from itching

Symptoms of itchy tongue

Many conditions that cause an itchy tongue may cause other symptoms like:

  • Redness
  • Inflammation
  • Hives
  • Rash or bumps
  • Tingling or burning sensation
  • White patchy area on the tongue that does not wipe away

Some of these symptoms may also occur anywhere on your body, but especially in or around the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat. These reactions can be an important clue to what is causing your tongue to itch. Make sure to pay close attention, especially if your symptoms progress and become severe.

Treatment of itchy tongue

The treatment of an itchy tongue will mainly depend on the cause of the symptoms. For instance, in cases of oral thrush, a healthcare provider may prescribe anti-fungal medication. For mild cases of glossitis or burning mouth syndrome, no medication may be necessary. On the other hand, if an itchy tongue is caused by an allergic reaction, seeking medical advice may be the best course of action.

Oral antihistamines

Antihistamine medications can help relieve itching, especially related to a mild allergic reaction, by blocking the body’s histamine response. Most antihistamine medications are considered safe for both kids and adults, but they may cause drowsiness.

Avoid triggers

For itchy tongues caused by allergies, it is important to identify and avoid those causes. Oral allergy syndrome is often associated with pollen-related foods. Allergy testing can help identify the source of allergy. Your medical team can then tell you what foods to avoid.

How to prevent the tongue from itching

Once you find relief for your itchy tongue, here are a few things that may prevent the itch from coming back:

  • Maintain good oral health. A proper oral hygiene routine that includes tongue scraping can help reduce organisms hiding in your mouth and on your tongue that can cause an itch.
  • Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water each day to prevent dry mouth. Saliva is the natural buffer for your mouth to prevent harmful bacteria from overgrowing.
  • Avoid alcohol-based mouthwashes. Alcohol can dry out your mouth, aggravating conditions like burning mouth syndrome, thrush, and glossitis.

When to seek professional help

An itchy tongue can be related to a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Seek medical help as soon as possible if your tongue begins to swell or you develop:

  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Airway constriction
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate

These symptoms could indicate a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention.

A dentist or medical provider can evaluate all your symptoms and help determine the underlying cause of your itchy tongue. They may be able to recommend treatments to help alleviate your symptoms and prevent future itchy breakouts.

Most often, an itchy tongue is harmless. It may take time to evaluate your symptoms and uncover the cause. Working with a dentist or medical provider can speed up the process and provide necessary support. With the proper diagnosis, you can say goodbye to that annoying itch.

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