An Overview of Transient Lingual Papillitis

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

Fungiform papillae are flat, pink bumps located on the top and sides of the tongue, especially towards the tip. They contain taste buds and temperature-sensing receptors. When these papillae become irritated and inflamed, tongue pain and difficulty eating may occur.

Many different factors have been linked to transient lingual papillitis, including infection, chronic trauma, heat injury, or eating spicy or acidic foods. Healthcare providers diagnose this condition by taking a medical history and performing an examination of the mouth. Rarely, a biopsy is performed

The treatment of transient lingual papillitis is supportive, meaning a healthcare provider may recommend therapies—saltwater rinses, cold foods, or topical corticosteroids—that can soothe any tongue discomfort.

Tongue examination

Martin Barraud / OJO Images / Getty Images

Types and Symptoms

The symptoms of transient lingual papillitis vary based on the type:

Classic or Localized Type

This type of transient lingual papillitis refers to inflammation of one or several fungiform papillae within one area of the tongue, often the tip.

It manifests as single or multiple raised red or white/yellow painful bumps. The bump(s) often disappear within one to two days; although, less commonly, it may take up to several days.

Other symptoms associated with this type include:

  • A burning, tingling, or itching sensation of the tongue
  • Sensitivity to hot foods
  • Difficulty with eating, especially spicy or high-acid foods
  • Distorted taste (called dysgeusia)
  • Dry mouth

Eruptive Lingual Papillitis Type

This type usually affects children and causes a sudden whole-body illness. A child often has a fever and lymph node enlargement in the neck ("swollen glands"), in addition to painful bumps on the tip and sides of the tongue.

The illness lasts about one week on average but then may recur a couple of months later.

Besides pain, fever, and swollen glands, a child may produce excess saliva and have difficulty eating.

Household transmission may occur with eruptive type lingual papillitis. In adults, the condition often manifests as sudden tongue burning that worsens when eating.

Papulokeratotic Type

The papulokeratotic type causes several white to yellow bumps to form all over the tongue. The bumps are painless and may come and go or persist for long periods of time.

Causes

The precise cause behind transient lingual papillitis remains unknown. That said, experts suspect that it occurs as a result of one or more triggering factors, such as:

  • Underlying infection, either viral or bacterial (this is commonly associated with eruptive lingual papillitis)
  • Low-grade chronic irritation or trauma from sharp-edged/fractured teeth or wearing an orthodontic appliance
  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor nutrition
  • Heat injury to the tongue
  • Eating spicy or acidic foods (for example, foods containing cinnamon or capsaicin)
  • Excessive smoking or alcohol intake
  • Using certain oral hygiene products
  • Hormone fluctuation (for example, during menstruation or menopause)
  • It may also be associated with atopic disease (e.g., eczema).

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.

Diagnosis

When diagnosing transient lingual papillitis, your healthcare provider will perform a medical history that explores potential triggers (e.g., trauma). Your healthcare provider will also perform a physical examination that focuses on the mouth, tongue, lips, and neck area (to look for lymph node swelling).

Less commonly, a biopsy (when a tiny piece of tissue from your tongue is removed and examined under the microscope) will be performed to rule out alternative diagnoses.

Treatment

Since this tongue condition usually resolves within hours to a couple of days, no treatment is often needed.

However, for symptom relief, a healthcare provider may recommend the following therapies:

  • Saltwater rinses
  • Cold drinks and foods
  • Anesthetic or antiseptic mouthwashes
  • Topical steroids, such as triamcinolone acetonide 0.1% dental paste
  • Avoiding irritating gums, candies, or oral hygiene products

Eliminating triggers to prevent recurrence of the condition may also be recommended.

A Word From Verywell

Transient lingual papillitis is a common, often painful tongue condition. While you may feel uncomfortable, and your tongue may appear unsightly, rest assured that this condition is harmless and will resolve soon, usually within a day or two.

If you think you have transient lingual papillitis, or notice any new changes with your tongue, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider, especially if it does not resolve within a couple of days.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do transient lingual papillitis bumps look like?

    The appearance depends on the type of transient lingual papillitis:

    • Classic or localized: Single or multiple raised bumps are located on one area of the tongue (often the tip), with a red or white/yellow color.
    • Eruptive lingual papillitis: Multiple raised bumps are located on the tip and sides of tongue and appear to be red and very irritated.
    • Papulokeratotic: Multiple white or yellow bumps appear all over the tongue.
    • U-shaped lingual papillitis: Bumps are not present. Instead, small patches of the tongue appear to be peeled away, resulting in pink, scattered spots. This type may be associated with COVID-19.
  • How do you get rid of lie bumps?

    Most cases of transient lingual papillitis (lie bumps) will go away after a few hours or a couple of days, so treatment isn't necessary. In the case of eruptive lingual papillitis, which is associated with pain and fever, you should see a healthcare provider for treatment.

  • Can you pop lie bumps on the tongue?

    Trying to pop a lie bump on the tongue is not recommended. Besides being painful, it is unnecessary since the bumps heal themselves within a few hours or days.

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6 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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