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What Causes Red Patches on the Tongue?

Do you have tongue red patches that you’re concerned about? Here’s what may be causing them.

It can be frightening to look in your mouth and see red patches on your tongue. Although you may initially believe you have a serious infection or a strange, new disease; this is unlikely to be the case. What causes red patches on the tongue and what can you do about them?

The Cause

The most common cause of red patches on the tongue is a condition known as geographic tongue. People affected by this condition usually have painless tongue red patches contrasting with areas of gray, giving the appearance of a geographic map. The red patches appear in areas where tongue papillae, the small bumps on the surface of the tongue, have been lost. It appears that these tiny bumps literally fall off of the surface of the tongue leaving red patches behind.

What Causes Geographic Tongue?

The exact cause of geographic tongue isn’t completely understood, but there appears to be some genetic susceptibility to this strange condition since it’s seen more frequently in certain families. It’s also more common in people who have allergic conditions, asthma, psoriasis, and eczema of the skin. It’s thought that their may be a hormonal component to geographic tongue since it’s significantly more common in women and often makes its appearance during pregnancy and times when hormone levels are fluctuating. How common is this condition overall? It’s estimated that around two percent of the population is affected by geographic tongue.

Are the Tongue Red Patches Painful?

While the tongue red patches are usually relatively painless, the tongue may be more sensitive to certain types of food, particularly spicy, sour, or acidic foods. Cigarette smoke can also be an aggravating factor. The associated with eating foods that aggravate this condition is often described as a stinging or tingling sensation and can make it difficult to eat.

Geographic Tongue Treatment

The good news is that geographic tongue is a harmless condition that is usually not indicative of underlying illness. The bad news is that there’s no cure for this condition other than avoiding foods that cause tongue sensitivity and discomfort. There’s some thought that the tongue red patches may be worsened by a lack of vitamin B in the diet. Although there’s no proof that supplementing with vitamin B will correct this condition, some people report improvement once they increase their vitamin B intake.

In certain cases, your doctor may prescribe topical steroid cream to relieve the tongue inflammation and sensitivity. It’s important to get a definitive diagnosis before using topical steroids since oral thrush can look similar to geographic tongue and topical steroids will make this condition worse.

It’s reassuring to know that the tongue red patches seen with geographic tongue aren’t serious, but see your doctor if the symptoms persist or if you develop significant tongue pain.

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