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Red tongue: causes and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

The tongue is one of the most easily accessible sites in the digestive system and, therefore, the amount of information it can offer in the diagnosis of diseases is often minimized. As the tongue is visible to the naked eye, it is left aside, but it should be the opposite because precisely just by observing it we can have useful information about our health .

In this case, the red tongue can correspond to many different causes: from local irritations such as tobacco consumption and lack of vitamins, to the realization of diseases that are going unnoticed such as chronic intestinal inflammation or liver problems.

If you want to know a little more about these and many other causes of red tongue, we invite you to read the following article by FastlyHealabout red tongue: causes .

Tongue allergy

There are different reasons why the tongue changes its color and appearance. This organ not only helps in the tasting, chewing and swallowing of food. It is also one of the few visible parts of the digestive system and therefore a screen for what may be happening further down in other areas of the body.

Pretending that the language is an isolated organ is a mistake and, therefore, local solutions are often not enough to improve its condition.

It may be that the reason for having a red and burning tongue is due to the ingestion of some food that generates allergies. To determine if this may be the cause of your tongue redness, pay attention to whether it happened to you after eating a particular food.

Some of the foods that cause allergies can be:

  • Fish.
  • Fruits, such as peaches or kiwi.
  • Eggs .
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts, such as peanuts, walnuts or hazelnuts.

However, the red tongue due to allergy can also be caused by a substance used in cosmetics or dentistry . In this case, it can be accompanied by swelling of the lips or the uvula.

Red tongue from irritants

One of the biggest irritants is tobacco. It can be the cause of chronic inflammation of the tongue and other structures of the mouth or respiratory system. A serious problem is that this chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to stop smoking.

There are minor irritants that can cause a reddening of the tongue:

  • Some types of pineapple .
  • Spicy or very strong seasonings.
  • Processed product additives.
  • Mouthwashes
  • Toothpaste.
  • Fizzy drinks, as they have a large number of chemicals.

Red and swollen tongue

Glossitis is the inflammation of the tongue, which can occur for different reasons:

Inflammatory bowel disease

There is great inflammation on the tongue and in certain areas of the intestine. These are the case of diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

It can cause a red and swollen tongue, as well as recurrent blisters. Many times it is one of the symptoms that is taken to consultation and, in this way, these diseases are diagnosed. One of the reasons may be due to poor absorption of vitamins, since it is made difficult by inflammation of the intestine.

Learn more about these symptoms in Crohn’s disease: symptoms and treatment .

Plummer-Vinson disease

In this disease, in addition to a red and smooth tongue, anemia and difficulty swallowing appear.

Tropical sprue

When this is the cause, the tongue may appear irritated at the tip, swollen and red. Also on the sides of the tongue, with blisters on it.

Hunter’s gloss

It occurs in people who have undergone stomach surgery (total gastrectomy), in which vitamin B12 cannot be adequately produced , so the inflammation of the tongue is secondary to this reason.

Geographic tongue or exfoliative glossitis

The tongue has whitish areas and reddish, irritated areas that resemble a map, hence its name. Burning may be experienced with salty, spicy foods, alcohol, or tobacco.

It is very common to see and can be related to:

  • Chronic inflammation of the intestine.
  • Bad dietary habits.
  • Diseases of the liver and bile duct.

Chronic atrophic candidiasis

It is common in people with low defenses and chronic diseases:

  • When there is a recent yeast infection , the tongue appears with a red background and white spots.
  • When this infection takes a long time evolution , tongue turns red, smooth and shiny.

Red tongue due to stomach and liver conditions


The infection of the stomach and intestines , as well as vomiting and diarrhea, can cause inflammation of the tongue, making this red, fleshy list is presented.

Some infections caused by bacteria are:

  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Shigella: cause of shigellosis.
  • Salmonella typhi: gives typhoid fever.

Gastroesophageal reflux

Bad eating habits cause stomach acid to rise up the esophagus, throat, tongue and reach areas of the respiratory system, generating irritation in all these areas.

The reflux causes symptoms such as:

  • Red and irritated tongue.
  • Pharyngeal or lingual burning.
  • Feeling of having something in your throat.
  • Throat clearing
  • Pharyngeal or nasal discharge.
  • Tos.
  • Asthma.


In severe liver disease and cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver) the tongue may appear red, shiny, and smooth, like varnish. This can be accompanied by bad breath and vitamin deficiency problems.

Learn more about cirrhosis in the following article Liver cerrosis: symptoms and prognosis .

Red tongue due to lack of vitamins

The red tongue may be due to vitamin deficiencies. These may be the causes:

Vitamin B1 deficiency

Vitamin B1 or thiamine causes, among other symptoms, that the tongue takes a pale red color with a granular appearance, and ulcerations can also appear in the mouth.

Vitamin B3 deficiency

Lack of vitamin B3 (niacin) can make the tongue appear red and smooth. This condition is called pellagra and it is reduced precisely by malnutrition with a lack of this vitamin. Other symptoms that manifest in pellagra are:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Spots on the skin.
  • Reddened skin (especially in areas exposed to the sun).
  • Neurological problems

The lack of vitamin B3 can be caused by:

  • Diet poor in this vitamin (which happens in diets with a lot of unalkalized corn).
  • Alcoholism.
  • Cirrhosis.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Hartnup disease (lack of absorption of part of the vitamin).
  • Carcinoid syndrome

The ideal solution to this problem is to improve the diet , making it balanced and including different types of fruits, vegetables (raw) and nuts. Today there are many foods enriched with vitamins such as flour or dairy, but their contribution can cause other health problems. For someone who already has pellagra, the fastest treatment is with nicotinamide .

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Symptoms of a lack of vitamin B12 are very slow to appear and range from blood disorders to nerve and muscle problems. Red tongue (or magenta as it is often called in this case) is a very rare symptom of this disease, but possible.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is partly ingested and partly synthesized in the intestine. Both its poor ingestion and malabsorptive problems, parasite infections and the use of some drugs can cause a lack of them.

A poor contribution of this vitamin has been attributed to the vegetarian diet , and this is so when the diet is unbalanced. If there is a contribution of fermented products (kimchi and kombucha, among others), algae, various raw fruits and vegetables and, on the other hand, treatment for parasitosis is done, there should be no vitamin B12 deficiency.

Medications that cause tongue ulcers

Finally, some medications can be the cause of the tongue having reddish ulcers, most of them superficial, including:

  • Gold salts.
  • Methotrexate
  • Azathioprine.
  • Indomethacin.
  • Nicorandil.

Consult your trusted doctor to determine the exact cause that accompanies your symptoms and to have the appropriate treatment for your diagnosis.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Red tongue: causes and treatment , we recommend that you enter our category of Teeth and mouth .

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