This article has been medically reviewed by Howard Orel, MD. Board-certified and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Orel runs an active general pediatric practice, Advocare Marlton Pediatrics. He also serves as CEO of Advocare — one of the largest independent medical groups in the country.
The tongue is a wonder that comes with a treasure trove of fun facts. For example, we owe our complex and rich linguistic history to the evolution of this tiny organ, the tongue print is as unique as the fingerprint, and it’s the only muscle not connected to bone at both ends. All this allows us to do cool things like telling dad jokes, taste delicious foods, and kiss a loved one.
As with so many things when it comes to our health and wellness, it’s also probably something you don’t think about until it starts feeling funny or even hurt. Your tongue might feel tingly, heavy, fuzzy, and dry — maybe you even have a burning sensation. Ouch, but don’t worry just yet. There’s a variety of different reasons why it may feel strange and most of them can be harmless. If you’re curious as to why your tongue feels weird and doing everything but wagging, here are some causes behind the most common symptoms, what to do about them, and when to see a doctor.
Why does your tongue feel heavy?
If your tongue feels heavy or sluggish, it might be a result of dysarthria. Dysarthria occurs when the muscles you use for speech are weak or you have difficulty controlling them, and can cause facial paralysis, tongue, or throat muscle weakness. Certain medications can cause the condition. There are several other accompanying symptoms, such as slurred or slow speech, and difficulty moving your tongue, that could be a sign of dysarthria. If you have any of these signs, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Your tongue might also feel heavy if it’s swollen. A swollen tongue can result from a range of things, including infection, inflammation, allergies, and trauma. Potential infectious causes of a swollen tongue include herpes simplex, a yeast infection, and a strep infection. Mild and serious allergies, like an insect bite or a drug and food allergy, can cause a swollen tongue. Trauma and inflammation can happen as a result of biting your tongue, eating hot and spicy food, or being irritated by dental equipment, which can result in a swollen tongue. If you know it’s the latter option, you can wait a few days while avoiding irritating foods (like spicy and hard, crunchy items) until the swelling goes down.
If you have a swollen tongue due to allergies or an infection, contact your local practitioner and trace back when and how you first developed your symptoms to receive the best treatment.
Why does your tongue feel dry?
Does your tongue feel weird and dry? If so, your mouth is telling you that your entire body is dehydrated. When you’re not hydrating properly, your body starts to conserve the fluid it has, which results in decreased saliva production. This is why you can have an unpleasantly dry tongue. The solution? Hydrate immediately and ensure you’re getting at least six to eight cups of water per day (or check with your health practitioner about the right amount of water you need to drink daily). Seek a doctor immediately if your dry tongue is accompanied by vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.
If you know you’re hydrating properly and you’re still experiencing a dry tongue, some causes might include infection, side effects from medication, chemotherapy, or hormonal changes. If none of these apply to you, check with your doctor.
Why does my tongue feel tingly? Several conditions can cause a tingling tongue, like pressure on a nerve, vitamin B12 deficiencies, multiple sclerosis, or infection. Nerve related injuries that can lead to a tingly tongue can be caused by dental work, a dislocated jaw, or head injury. Thyroids, strokes, and seizures are also common causes. Other causes include alcohol abuse, deficiencies in calcium, sodium or potassium, or heavy metal poisoning.
What causes a hairy tongue?
A fuzzy, or hairy, feeling tongue can be triggered by a variety of reasons (and no, your tongue isn’t sprouting any hair!). Typically you experience a fuzzy tongue because the filiform papillae (FP) on your tongue aren’t shedding as often as they should. Like skin cells, FP have a growth cycle that requires them to eventually shed over time. If you’re experiencing a hairy tongue, the FP are growing taller rather than shedding, and as a result, might look like hair — and feels downy. There are a variety of reasons why your hairy tongue might be occurring, including excessive use of alcohol, overconsumption of tea and coffee, tobacco use, poor oral hygiene, dehydration, and use of certain medications.
The good news is your fuzzy tongue is often only temporary and usually isn’t a sign of a more serious problem. Simply swap out your bad habits, like smoking and overdrinking, and keep up a consistent oral hygiene routine, including brushing and flossing regularly. Decrease your tea and coffee consumption, and ask your doctor if it’s okay to stop using the medicine you suspect might be causing hairy tongue.
Can anxiety make my tongue feel funny?
Anxiety can make you feel a lot of weird sensations in your body, including your tongue. If you’re having an anxiety attack, or you suffer from chronic anxiety, you might experience numbness or a tingling sensation on your tongue. You might even think your tongue feels swollen. Anxiety does not cause the tongue to swell, but it does make you feel more aware of your body, and in the middle of an anxiety attack, these tongue symptoms can seem more pronounced and concerning. As with other parts of the body, stress changes how the body functions and your tongue is no exception.
The solution? Find soothing and calming techniques, such as deep breathing, to calm and restore your body. If your anxiety symptoms do not subside, contact your doctor right away.
Why does it feel like I have a burning tongue?
If your tongue feels like you burned it with piping hot pizza, it might be from burning mouth syndrome (sometimes referred to as burning tongue syndrome). This can happen as a result of nutritional deficiencies, a dry mouth, medication effects, or mouth irritation like eating a piping hot pizza!
Solutions? Ensure you’re properly hydrated and make sure you’re eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Talk to your doctor if you have side effects due to medications you are taking and be aware of your oral hygiene habits, so you’re taking good care of your mouth.
What is COVID tongue?
Coronavirus can also be a reason your tongue feels funny. It’s called COVID tongue, which may explain why your tongue is discolored or swollen. It can even result in mouth ulcers. Some patients report feeling a furry coating on their tongues or white and yellow blotches that won’t go away even after scrubbing them. COVID tongue is painful and feels like the tongue is being twisted. If you suspect you could have COVID tongue and haven’t yet been diagnosed with COVID-19, it’s important to get tested and follow all suggested coronavirus protocols to ensure the health and safety of you and anyone you come in contact with.
What can cause a numb tongue?
If you can’t feel your tongue, there are several reasons it could be numb. You may be dealing with hypocalcemia, which is when your calcium levels are extremely low. It could also result from an allergic reaction to food or be a symptom of Lyme disease (or other bacterial infections with similar issues). Numb tongues can also stem from problems with the nervous system.
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