Top Causes of Tongue Numbness
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A numb or tingling tongue can feel weird and be related to tongue swelling, itching, and weakness. Tongue numbness is most commonly caused by an allergic reaction from eating certain foods or chemicals, low calcium levels which is also known as hypocalcemia, a bacterial infection like Lymes disease, or a condition involving the nervous system. Read below for more causes and treatment options for a numb tongue.
Common tongue numbness symptoms
Numbness is a loss of sensation in a body part. Many people have experienced this sensation upon falling asleep for too long on a crooked arm or typing for too long on a keyboard. However, symptoms of tongue numbness are not as common an occurrence and can be very frightening. Furthermore, the numbness may be associated with other symptoms that may feel strange and disconcerting.
For example, symptoms you may also experience that accompany your tongue numbness include:
These symptoms may occur in the tongue or close to the tongue such as around the mouth. These tongue numbness symptoms are often temporary, but unlike being able to find quick relief for symptoms such as hand numbness, tongue numbness may be more difficult to resolve. As a result, it is important to follow up with your doctor and get appropriate care as soon as you notice tongue numbness symptoms.
Why does your tongue feel numb?
Numbness is generally the result of injury, compression or irritation of a nerve or a branch of one of the nerves in the body part effected. The tongue is composed of nerves and small blood vessels that begin higher up in the face and brain. The nerves and vessels branch off in various directions to give blood flow and sensation throughout the tongue.
Furthermore, the tongue is one of the first body parts that comes into contact with the outside world whether it is food, drink or other substances, the tongue is a gateway for protecting the body from harmful elements. As a result, the tongue is very sensitive, and a common defense mechanism it utilizes to protect the body includes numbness.
There are many causes that can affect the nerves and blood vessels in the tongue as well as causes that trigger a protective response from the tongue.
- Allergic: If your tongue comes into contact with a food, chemical or substance that your immune systems recognizes as harmful, it may swell and become tingly and numb due to the reaction.
- Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases or underlying illnesses that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the nerves in the tongue and cause injury that results in numbness. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and lupus are examples of such autoimmune diseases.
- Infectious: Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease and viral infections such as shingles can cause inflammation and nerve injury that results in numbness and paralysis of the face. This paralysis can spread to also include the tongue and around the mouth.
- Vitamin Imbalance: There are certain vitamins that are essential to healthy nerve function such as vitamins D and B12. Deficiencies in these vitamins over time can lead to nerve damage and injury. Conversely, exposure to too much Vitamin B6 can cause numbness.
- Mineral Imbalance: There are certain minerals in the body such as calcium that are essential to the body's general functioning. Deficiencies in these minerals (hypocalcemia) can lead to tingling around the mouth that can feel very similar to tongue numbness.
Systemic disease causes:
- Central Nervous System: Numbness of the tongue or around the month can often be the signaling symptom of central nervous system conditions such as imminent migraines or strokes.
- Metabolic: Dysfunction in the processes that your body uses day-to-day, for example glucose regulation (hypoglycemia), can also affect the way your nerves function causing numbness and tingling in the tongue, the mouth and other body parts.
- Vascular: Conditions that result in constriction of the blood vessels in the tongue can lead to tongue numbness because the tongue is not receiving the blood flow that it needs.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Low calcium level
Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)
When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergy, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.
Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness
Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A cold sore is a skin lesion on the lips caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores are extremely common. In fact, most adults are infected with HSV, usually transmitted in childhood by normal close contact with parents, siblings or friends.
While the infection can be entirely unnoti...
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Bell’s palsy can present as acute or chronic facial paralysis. This paralysis is usually sudden in onset and worsens over the course of 48 hours. Resolution of symptoms usually occurs within two weeks to six months but permanent paralysis can rarely occur. Symptoms of this condition are a result of the paralysis of facial muscles. This paralysis usually occurs only on one side of the face. The cause of Bell’s palsy is inflammation or damage to the facial nerve, also known as cranial nerve VII. This nerve controls the muscles of the face. Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation or targeting the underlying cause of facial nerve paralysis.
Top Symptoms: arm weakness, facial numbness, arm weakness, hearing loss, pain on one side of the face
Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy: face weakness, weakness in one side of the face
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Treating a numb, tingling tongue
Tongue numbness is a symptom that necessitates prompt follow-up with your doctor.
While you wait for you appointment, try these at home remedies in order to combat your tongue numbness symptoms:
- Balanced diet rich in essential vitamins to keep the nerves healthy: Fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins can provide your body with the nutrition necessary to keep your nerves healthy.
- Regular exercise: Maintaining an optimal weight with exercise as well as a balanced diet can prevent and also control metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes that can cause your tongue numbness symptoms.
- Avoid foods that may trigger an allergic reaction: Take note of foods that seem related to your symptoms. Common foods that trigger allergies include nuts, fish and wheat. Some people are allergic to common fruits and vegetables such as melons or peaches.
Depending on the cause of your tongue numbness symptoms, your doctor may first suggest the following treatment options.
- Supplementation: If your symptoms are due to vitamin or mineral imbalance, your doctor may prescribe supplements that you can take to help your body get back on track.
- Medications to relax blood vessels: There are many different kinds of medication that can combat constriction in your blood vessels by dilating (relaxing) them and promoting circulation.
- Migraine medication: If your tongue numbness has been a signal for imminent migraines, your doctor can prescribe medication to give you relief from your headaches.
If you experience any symptoms of speech difficulty, facial drooping, or weakness to the point you cannot other body parts call 911 immediately. These could be signs of a stroke. The key signs can be remembered by the acronym FAST (facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911).
Furthermore, if you experience tongue numbness in addition to wheezing or trouble breathing, difficulty swallowing, throat tightness or hives also call 911 immediately. These could be signs of a serious allergic reaction.
Questions your doctor may ask about tongue numbness
- Where in your mouth are you numb?
- Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
- Do you have a rash?
- Relax your face. Have someone else tap the corner of your mouth. Does your lip or face twitch with each tap? (This is known as Chvostek's sign.)
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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