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Lie bumps (transient lingual papillitis): What to know

Lie bumps are small red or white bumps that occur on the tongue and cause discomfort.

“Lie bumps” is the common name for transient lingual papillitis. People used to believe that these bumps appeared on a person’s tongue when they lied. While this superstition is long forgotten, the name has stuck.

This article explores the potential causes of lie bumps and how they might be treated.

What are lie bumps?

Transient lingual papillitis is a short-term condition that affects the tongue.

When a person has lie bumps, small red or white bumps appear on their tongue. These swollen bumps may cause some pain and discomfort.

A 2017 study notes that while this type of tongue bump may be painful, it is common and passes quickly. Lie bumps usually go away without treatment after 2 or 3 days.


Symptoms

Lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis, on tongue.
Lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis, are small bumps that appear on the surface of the tongue.

Some people describe lie bumps as looking like pimples on the tongue. They may feel:

  • uncomfortable
  • painful
  • swollen
  • itchy
  • tingly

Other than pain or irritation from the bumps themselves, people do not usually have any other accompanying symptoms.


Transient lingual papillitis vs. eruptive lingual papillitis

If a person is experiencing additional symptoms, they may have another condition called eruptive lingual papillitis.

The bumps on the tongue in eruptive lingual papillitis may look the same as lie bumps, or transient lingual papillitis.

Eruptive lingual papillitis differs from transient lingual papillitis in the following ways:

  • it may last for up to 2 weeks
  • it may be caused by a virus
  • it is a contagious condition
  • it may cause swollen glands
  • it may be accompanied by a fever
  • it is more common in children than adults


Causes

Spicy or hot food with chillis and pepper.
Spicy or hot food may cause transient lingual papillitis.

According to a 2003 study, transient lingual papillitis is considered an inflammatory disease. The underlying causes of the condition remain unclear. A 2016 study explains that while the condition is poorly understood, it is not harmful to an individual.

While more research is needed to understand the causes of transient lingual papillitis, the following are thought to play a role:

It is thought that lie bumps occur when small fleshy papillae on the tongue become irritated. The papillae are where the taste buds are, and when they get irritated, they may swell and form bumps.

Treatment

Lie bumps usually go away on their own after 2 or 3 days. To help treat symptoms and resolve the condition quickly, a person can try:

  • avoiding acidic or spicy foods
  • rinsing the mouth with salt water
  • brushing the teeth after every meal
  • using mouthwash to reduce mouth bacteria
  • using an over-the-counter topical treatment


When to see a doctor

Woman having her tongue and throat inspected by doctor.
Persistent lie bumps that reoccur frequently should be inspected by a doctor.

It is a good idea to see a dentist or doctor if the lie bumps:

  • do not go away on their own after a week
  • frequently come back
  • are very painful
  • bleed when touched

A doctor or dentist can usually diagnose lie bumps by looking at them. If they think the bumps may be caused by something else, they will perform other diagnostic tests.

Other causes of bumps on the tongue

If bumps on the tongue are not caused by transient or eruptive lingual papillitis, then another condition may be the cause.

Other potential causes of bumps on the tongue include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): This is a viral infection that is spread by skin-to-skin contact. It causes warts and may affect the genitals, mouth, or throat.
  • Canker sores: These are painful, red sores that can occur anywhere in the mouth. They are not contagious and normally get better without treatment within 10 days.
  • Syphilis: An early sign of this sexually transmitted infection is a sore that may appear in the mouth.
  • Scarlet fever: One of the symptoms of this bacterial infection is the appearance of red bumps on the tongue.
  • Mouth cancer: Although rare, lumps on the tongue that are grey, pink, or red and bleed when touched may be cancerous. Mouth cancer may appear on the side of the tongue, rather than the top.
  • Traumatic fibroma: This is a smooth, pink growth on the tongue. It is caused by chronic irritation and may need to be surgically removed.
  • Lymphoepithelial cysts: These are soft yellow cysts that may appear under the tongue. They are normally harmless, and their cause is unknown.


Outlook

Lie bumps are not usually a cause for concern and tend to go away on their own after 2 or 3 days.

A person should speak to a doctor if the bumps on the tongue do not go away after a week, frequently recur, bleed when touched, or are very painful.

A doctor can help determine the cause of the bumps, most of which are not harmful. If the cause is an underlying medical condition, a doctor can help a person access the right treatment.

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