What Causes Pain in Back of Tongue When Swallowing?

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.

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.

Trauma

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.

Infection

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.

Mouth Ulcers

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.

Food Allergy

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 Back of Tongue When Swallowing

With how often we swallow throughout the day, pain in the back of the tongue that increases when swallowing is something that we will want to remedy very quickly. 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. 

Key Takeaways

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.

Sources

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 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.

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