A tongue infection is a condition technically referred to as glossitis. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, an infected tongue will swell and become discolored. The condition can range from mild to severe and occurs when the tongue becomes inflamed due to bacteria, injury or preexisting medical conditions.
When a tongue becomes infected, it will enlarge and become painful. In severe cases, the tongue will swell to the point where it interferes with eating or speaking. An infected tongue will appear a dark red color that can range from pale to extremely bright. The infection results in the reduction of papillae, the raised bumps that normally cover the tongue. The loss of papillae will make the tongue have an abnormally smooth texture.
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, a tongue infection can occur if the tongue comes into contact with high temperatures, such as eating foods that are too hot. It can also be a result of spicy foods, alcohol or tobacco. An infection can also occur if the tongue is bitten or cut. Preexisting viral infections like herpes simplex can affect the tongue, in addition to allergies, anemia, syphilis or dry mouth.
Glossitis can be diagnosed in a variety of ways, depending on the severity of the condition. A doctor examines the tongue’s appearance to check for swelling, discoloration and missing papillae. He may look for visible signs of injury or irritation that could account for the infection. If the infection does not appear to be related to injury or exposure to hot temperatures or irritating substances, a doctor performs tests to check if the infection is due to an underlying medical condition.
A tongue infection can be treated with twice daily teeth cleaning and flossing. Proper dental hygiene is most effective if the infection is caused by bacteria. It can also prevent bacteria from building up in any tongue cuts or injuries. If the infection is more severe, antibiotics can be prescribed to kill the bacteria. For recurring tongue infections, a doctor may advise making lifestyle changes, such as reducing spicy foods, alcohol and tobacco.
According to the United States National Library of Medicine, a tongue infection can have serious complications if left untreated. The tongue can continue to become more swollen and irritated and cause problems with chewing and swallowing. The swelling can become so severe, the tongue can block airways and make breathing difficult. Once the airways become blocked, the infection can become fatal if not treated immediately.