The other day, I thought that I had a pimple on my tongue. It came out of nowhere: All of a sudden, I felt a tiny but hugely annoying little bump on the tip of my tongue. And then I proceeded to play with it—pushing it against my teeth, my mouth, and grimacing my face in all sorts of weird positions in an attempt to pop it out of its uninvited existence.
I didn’t feel like I did anything out of the ordinary to deserve this petulant blob on my tongue, but, alas—there it was, inhabiting my mouth and causing a serious disturbance that I couldn’t ignore. My coworkers knew exactly what I was talking about when I brought it up. Is it a pimple? Is it a blob? A taste bud? I sought the truth, once and for all.
So a bit of a biology lesson: The tiny bumps on your tongue are called papillae (AKA clusters of taste buds), and these papillae can get irritated.
“The little tiny bumps that you see on the end of your tongue are called transient lingual papillitis,” says Jason Abramowitz, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor. “They typically occur when the tongue is inflamed or irritated—so that’s in periods of stress, viral causes like the common cold, or bacterial infections, as well as allergy flare-ups. They can also be caused by acid reflux and really spicy or acidic foods.” A-ha! (And also, damn me and my love of spicy food!).
While doctors know the causes of the dots, they’re unfortunately pretty hard to prevent. The good news is that they’re relatively easy to treat, though. “Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid irritating the bumps directly with things like spicy or acidic foods,” says Dr. Abramowitz. You can also use an over-the-counter remedy, like a cold sore gel or paste, which can ease the irritation (*they’re not cold sores, though). If the angry bumps just won’t go away—as in, they last over a week, grow in size, or the pain worsens—he advises to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Until then, keep your tongue in (your) cheek.
While we’re at it, here’s what the color and texture of your tongue can tell you about your health. And on a similar note, these are some home remedies for canker sores.
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