Jessica is a medical writer with an unquenched thirst to discover something new. She believes that medical content should be accessible to everyone and strives to write content that every single person can understand. When Jessica isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading a book with a dog cuddled in her lap. Jessica has a Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.
Medically reviewed by
Amy is a Board Certified Family Health Nurse Practitioner (FNP) with over 15 years of experience working in Hospital Medicine, Urgent Care and Primary Care practices. Amy graduated Thomas Jefferson University with high distinction earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2008, a Master of Science in Nursing in 2010 and a Post Master's Certificate in Adult Gerontology Acute Care (AGAC) in 2014. She was recognized by the Elite American Nurses Association in 2013 for her dedication, achievements and leadership in the field Nursing. She served as a clinical preceptor for a number of Nurse Practitioner students and enjoys teaching the bright minds of future NPs.
Pain that originates from the back of the tongue is unpleasant and only becomes worse when swallowing. Unfortunately, when you have this pain you realize just how often you swallow in a day because each swallow is accompanied by a flash of pain.
There are many causes of tongue pain that worsens when swallowing, but thankfully, most cases are not serious and improve on their own. However, some cases require a doctor’s visit or can become serious if accompanying symptoms are ignored.
Table of Contents
- What Does it Mean When Your Tongue Hurts When You Swallow?
- What Causes Pain in the Back of the Tongue When Swallowing?
- What is Your Tongue Pain a Symptom Of?
- Can a Sore Throat Make the Back of Your Tongue Hurt?
- Treatment for Pain in the Back of the Tongue When Swallowing
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
What Does it Mean When Your Tongue Hurts When You Swallow?
Experiencing pain in the tongue when swallowing can be unsettling, but in most cases, it is not a cause for concern. Tongue pain when swallowing likely occurs because something is causing pain in the back of the tongue, and when swallowing, you put pressure on the tongue, which causes additional pain.
What Causes Pain in the Back of the Tongue When Swallowing?
Below are some causes of pain in the back of the tongue that can become irritated when swallowing.
Everyone has experienced the pain of biting down on or burning their tongue by consuming too hot foods or beverages at least once in their life.
While this trauma can affect all parts of the tongue, if it occurs to the back of the tongue, it is more likely to become exacerbated when swallowing. Despite how uncomfortable this can be, it typically will resolve on its own.
One type of infection that commonly causes tongue pain is oral thrush, which results from a yeast infection. Those with oral thrush may notice white patches that resemble cottage cheese on the tongue.
Other infections may affect the throat, impacting the back of the tongue as well. For example, strep throat is a common bacterial infection that causes pain when swallowing.
One common ailment of the tongue are canker sores or oval ulcers, which are round sores that are often whitish in appearance, although they can also appear red, gray, or yellow.
Mouth ulcers are so common because multiple scenarios can cause them to develop, including:
- eating something sharp or hard
- biting your tongue
- eating certain foods
- feeling stressed or anxious
- undergoing hormonal changes
- quitting smoking
In most cases, ulcers will heal within a week or two and do not require any treatment. If the discomfort becomes too much, over-the-counter pain medication is an option, and it’s also recommended to avoid eating irritating foods as this may set off additional pain.
While a sore tongue is not a symptom that we commonly associate with food allergies, some foods can cause a condition called oral allergy syndrome, which has a sore tongue as a symptom. In most cases, this is caused by raw vegetables, fruits, and certain tree nuts.
In addition to a sore tongue, oral allergy syndrome may cause a scratchy throat, often leading to additional pain when swallowing. Other symptoms include an itchy mouth and swelling of the lips, tongue, or mouth.
What is Your Tongue Pain a Symptom Of?
A sore tongue can be a symptom of many conditions, such as infections or food allergies. However, there are some less common conditions that may cause tongue pain.
One of these conditions is vitamin deficiency. Those deficient in vitamin B-12, iron, or folate, may experience a smooth, sore tongue. Deficiencies often develop over an extended period of time and can usually be remedied by eating a well-balanced diet and taking supplements.
It’s also possible that your sore tongue is a side effect of a medicine that you are taking. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen (Aleve), and beta-blockers can cause ulcers on the tongue, leading to pain when swallowing.
Can a Sore Throat Make the Back of Your Tongue Hurt?
A sore throat can make the back of the tongue hurt because, in many cases, whatever is causing your sore throat also affects the back third of the tongue.
The conditions that cause a sore throat and tongue are numerous, with some being mild, such as the common cold, and others being more severe, such as cancer. Most cases are mild and clear up on their own, but visiting a doctor is the only true way to determine the cause.
Treatment for Pain in the Back of the Tongue When Swallowing
Given how often we swallow throughout the day, we would naturally want to address pain in the back of the tongue that intensifies with swallowing as soon as possible. Unfortunately, many conditions that cause tongue pain have to clear up on their own.
In some cases, a salt-water gargle may help speed up healing in the back of the throat and tongue. For pain due to an infection, taking prescribed medication properly and for the complete course is essential for clearing the infection.
No matter what, it is crucial to drink plenty of fluids as this will help keep the throat well-moisturized and lubricated, preventing throat pain. Drinking warm fluids, in particular, will help relieve swelling and pain.
When to See a Doctor?
If you experience any symptoms of oral thrush, such as a white, cottage-cheese like coating on the tongue, be sure to visit a doctor to receive the medication needed to clear it up. In addition, any tongue pain accompanied by other symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, including swelling in the mouth or difficulty breathing, requires immediate medical attention.
Get Help From an Online Doctor
If your sore tongue has not resolved within a week or two, visiting a doctor can help determine what is causing the pain and what you can do to remedy it. With the DrHouse app, you can meet with a doctor in 15 minutes or less, allowing you to easily schedule the appointment into your day. Online doctors can help determine what may be causing your sore tongue and what can be done to reduce the pain.
Many conditions can cause pain in the back of the tongue, which often feels worse when swallowing because of the pressure exerted. In most cases, the cause of your tongue pain will go away within a week or two without any treatment. However, some causes of tongue pain, such as infections, may require prescription medication.
Visiting an online doctor is a convenient way to quickly get the answers and treatment you need for your sore tongue.
- Antifungal Activity of Capric Acid, Nystatin, and Fluconazole and Their In Vitro Interactions Against Candida Isolates from Neonatal Oral Thrush | ASSAY and Drug Development Technologies. (2022). ASSAY And Drug Development Technologies. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/adt.2020.971
- Muluk, N., & Cingi, C. (2018). Oral Allergy Syndrome. American Journal Of Rhinology & Allergy, 32(1), 27-30. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.2500/ajra.2018.32.4489
- Canker Sore: Treatments, Causes, and Symptoms. (2022). Retrieved 21 February 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/canker-sores
- Yoshida, H., Tsuji, K., Sakata, T., Nakagawa, A., & Morita, S. (2010). Clinical study of tongue pain: Serum zinc, vitamin B12, folic acid, and copper concentrations, and systemic disease. British Journal Of Oral And Maxillofacial Surgery, 48(6), 469-472. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.bjoms.2009.08.001
Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.
Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.
If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.
DrHouse provides 24/7 virtual urgent care, men’s health, women’s health and online prescriptions.
On-demand virtual visits
24/7 care support
Prescriptions as needed