Overview of Transient Lingual Papillitis (Lie Bumps)

Symptoms, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Transient lingual papillitis, also called "lie bumps," is a common inflammatory condition that affects your tongue, specifically the taste buds, also called fungiform papillae.

Fungiform papillae are flat, pink bumps on the top, sides, and tips of the tongue. They sense taste and temperature. When papillae become irritated and inflamed, it can be painful and make it hard to eat.

This article looks at the symptoms, types, and causes of bumps on your tongue, how they're diagnosed and treated, and how you may be able to keep them from coming back.

Tongue examination

Martin Barraud / OJO Images / Getty Images

What Is Transient Lingual Papillitis?

  • Transient: Lasting for only a short time
  • Lingual: Relating to the tongue
  • Papilla: Small round bumps somewhere in the body; plural is papillae
  • Papillitis: Inflammation of papillae

Types and Symptoms of Bumps on Tongue

Transient lingual papillitis comes in four different types, each with its own set of symptoms.

Classic or Localized Lingual Papillitis Type

In classic or localized (confined to a small area) transient lingual papillitis, the papillae are inflamed in just one area of the tongue, often the tip. It causes:

  • One or more raised red or white/yellow painful bumps
  • A burning, tingling, or itching tongue
  • Sensitivity to hot foods
  • Difficulty eating, especially spicy or high-acid foods
  • Distorted taste (called dysgeusia)
  • Dry mouth

The bumps on your tongue typically last for between one day and several days.

Eruptive Lingual Papillitis Type

This type usually affects children and causes a sudden, whole-body illness. Symptoms include:

  • Painful bumps on the tip and sides of the tongue
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes ("swollen glands")
  • Excess saliva
  • Difficulty eating

On average, this illness lasts about a week. However, it may recur a couple of months later.

Eruptive-type lingual papillitis sometimes spreads to the whole household. In adults, it often causes a sudden burning tongue that gets worse when you eat.

Papulokeratotic Lingual Papillitis Type

Papulokeratotic lingual papillitis causes bumps on the tongue that are:

  • White or yellow
  • Often painless
  • All over the tongue

These bumps may come and go or persist for long periods of time.

U-Shaped Lingual Papillitis

U-shaped lingual papillitis has some key differences from the other types.

First, it doesn't involve bumps. Instead, small patches of the tongue look like they've been peeled away. Other symptoms may include:

  • Scattered pink spots
  • Tongue swelling (in some cases)
  • Burning sensations in the mouth
  • Canker sores on the cheeks, lips, and mouth

This type of papillitis may be associated with COVID-19.

Canker Sores vs. Lingual Papillitis

While their locations, symptoms, and treatments are similar, papillitis just causes bumps while canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are open sores.

Causes of Lie Bumps

Researchers don't yet know the exact cause(s) of transient lingual papillitis. They suspect it's the result of one or more triggering factors. Some of these are systemic (body-wide) while others only involve the tongue.

Suspected systemic triggers include:

Localized triggers of bumps on your tongue may include:

  • Low-grade chronic irritation or trauma, from things like sharp-edged teeth or orthodontic appliances such as retainers
  • A burn on the tongue
  • Eating spicy or acidic foods, such as cinnamon, hot peppers, or citrus fruit
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Certain oral hygiene products

Research suggests, as well, that transient lingual papillitis may be associated with a food allergy. It may also be seen with other underlying tongue conditions, such as geographic tongue (discolored patches that make the tongue look like a map).

Diagnosis of Bumps on the Tongue

To diagnose transient lingual papillitis, your healthcare provider will likely:

  • Ask about your symptoms and any possible trauma to your tongue
  • Do a physical examination of your mouth, tongue, lips
  • Check your neck area for swollen lymph node

If your symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, your provider may order a biopsy, which means removing a small bit of tissue from your tongue and examining it under a microscope.

Treatment of Bumps on the Tongue

Eruptive transient lingual papillitis may require antibiotics to treat an underlying bacterial infection. (Antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections.)

Other bumps on the tongue usually go away within hours to a few days. They don't usually need medical treatment. To ease the pain of symptoms, your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Saltwater rinses
  • Cold drinks and foods
  • Anesthetic (numbing) or antiseptic (germ-killing) mouthwashes
  • Topical steroids, such as triamcinolone acetonide 0.1% dental paste
  • Avoiding gum, candy, or oral hygiene products that may irritate your tongue

If you and your healthcare provider can identify what triggered your lie bumps, avoiding that trigger in the future may keep them from coming back.


Transient lingual papillitis, or lie bumps, are inflamed taste buds. They come in several types, each with its own distinctive pattern, appearance, and other symptoms.

Causes may include infection, stress, poor nutrition, allergies, trauma to the tongue, spicy foods, smoking, and some oral hygiene products.

Lie bumps are generally diagnosed based on symptoms and appearance. Your healthcare provider may also check for swollen glands or perform a biopsy to rule out other conditions.

These bumps on your tongue will likely go away in a few days without needing medical attention. You can relieve pain with saltwater rinses, cold food and drinks, special mouthwashes, and topical steroids.

A Word From Verywell

While transient lingual papillitis may be uncomfortable, rest assured that it's harmless and should clear up in a few days.

If you're concerned about bumps on your tongue, or on your child's—especially if they last longer than a couple of days—talk to your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do transient lingual papillitis bumps look like?

    The appearance depends on the type of transient lingual papillitis:

    • Classic or localized: Red or white/yellow raised bump(s) in one area of the tongue (often the tip)
    • Eruptive lingual papillitis: Red, irritated, raised bumps on the tip and sides of that tongue
    • Papulokeratotic: White or yellow bumps all over the tongue.
    • U-shaped lingual papillitis: Small, peeled-looking pink patches
  • Can you pop lie bumps on the tongue?

    You shouldn't try to. They don't need to drain and will likely go away on their own in a few days if you leave them alone.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.