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Swollen Tongue

Swollen Tongue: Introduction

A swollen tongue is an abnormal condition in which the entire tongue or a portion of it is enlarged, bloated or distended. A swollen tongue is a symptom of a variety of disorders, diseases or conditions. A swollen tongue can result from infection, inflammation, allergy, genetic disorders, trauma, malignancy, metabolic diseases and other abnormal processes.

A swollen tongue can result from an allergic reaction or the more serious anaphylactic reaction. A swollen tongue combined with certain symptoms, such as hives, itching, shortness of breath and rapid breathing, called tachypnea, (more that about 16 breaths per minute for an adult) can be a symptom of a serious, potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. This often occurs in a sudden, severe attack that can include respiratory distress.

Another sudden cause of a swollen tongue is trauma, that results in a laceration and/or contusion.

A swollen tongue can also be chronic and ongoing over a long period of time, such as when it is due to acromegaly, sarcoma, oral cancer, or Down syndrome, also known as mongolism. For more details about causes, see causes of a swollen tongue.

A swollen tongue often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Other common symptoms include tongue pain, tongue lesion, and difficulty chewing and/or swallowing. Complications of a seriously swollen tongue can include airway obstruction, low oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide levels in the body and respiratory distress. The underlying disorder, disease or condition can also cause complications.

Diagnosis of a swollen tongue combined with an allergic reaction and respiratory distress is generally made very rapidly by paramedics or in an emergency room setting. Diagnosis is based on symptoms and a possible history of allergy, and treatment begins emergently.

Diagnosing a swollen tongue that is due to a condition that is not a life-threatening emergency begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination, including visual examination of the tongue.

A noninvasive test called a pulse oximetry is generally performed. This involves clipping a painless device to the fingertip, which measures the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Making a diagnosis also includes performing a variety of other tests to help to diagnose potential underlying diseases, conditions or disorders. Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include blood tests, culture and sensitivity tests of any infected lesions on the tongue and/or biopsy of tongue tumors or lesions to determine if cancer is the cause.

A diagnosis of a swollen tongue and its cause may be delayed or missed because a swollen tongue may progress gradually or be mild or include only a portion of the tongue. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of a swollen tongue.

Treatment of a swollen tongue involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Treatment of anaphylactic reaction includes immediate administration of the medication epinephrine, supplemental oxygen administration, and possibly the insertion of a breathing tube into the throat to keep the airway open.

Some other conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of a swollen tongue. ...more »

Swollen Tongue: Treatments

Treatment plans for a swollen tongue are individualized based on the underlying cause, the presence of coexisting diseases, the age and medical history of the patient, and other factors. Treatment generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the cause, decreases the risk of developing serious complications, such as airway obstruction, and helps a person to chew ...more treatments »

Swollen Tongue: Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing a swollen tongue and its cause may be delayed or missed because in some cases, a swollen tongue may progress gradually, such as in oral cancer, or it may not be severe enough or painful enough for a person to seek medical care.

A swollen tongue is a symptom of many different conditions that range in severity from mild to immediately ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Swollen Tongue

Wrongly Diagnosed with Swollen Tongue?

Causes of Swollen Tongue

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More information about Swollen Tongue

  1. Swollen Tongue: Introduction
  2. Symptoms
  3. Causes
  4. Treatments
  5. Misdiagnosis

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