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Transient lingual papillitis

Author: Dr Dyall-Smith FACD, Dermatologist, 2010.

Transient lingual papillitis — codes and concepts

What is transient lingual papillitis?

Transient lingual papillitis is a common painful inflammatory condition affecting one or several fungiform papillae on the tongue. It is also known as ‘lie bumps’ and may be related to or the same as eruptive (familial) lingual papillitis and fungiform papillary glossitis. A nonpainful papulokeratotic variant has been reported.

Eruptive lingual papillitis

What are fungiform papillae?

Fungiform papillae are one of the special types of bumps found on the surface of the tongue. Fungiform papillae contain taste buds (especially for bitter taste), temperature receptors and have a good blood supply.

They are scattered over the top and sides of the tongue, mainly towards the tip. Usually they are not obvious, being flat and pink.

The number and size of fungiform papillae varies:

  • females have more fungiform papillae than males
  • they become even more numerous after the menopause
  • nerve injury may result in a reduced number of fungiform papillae and reduced taste sensation

Fungiform papillae can become obvious in a number of conditions, the most well recognised of which is the ‘strawberry tongue’ of scarlet fever.

Who gets transient lingual papillitis and why?

The classic form of transient lingual papillitis affects over 50% of the population. It appears to be most common in young women, but all age groups can be affected. The most likely cause of transient lingual papillitis is local irritation or trauma to a fungiform papilla. However many other possible triggers have been suggested including stress, hormone fluctuations, gastrointestinal upset and specific foods.

Eruptive (familial) lingual papillitis affects young children, and their families. It appears to be most common in Spring, although it can occur all year round. Children in contact with many other children, such as school, kindergarten or day care, appear to be most likely to develop this condition. A viral cause has been suggested because of the common development of the condition in family members. One theory is that, similar to herpes simplex virus / cold sores, the virus is caught in childhood and may then cause recurrent episodes throughout life, in this case presenting in adulthood as the classic form of transient lingual papillitis.

Fungiform papillary glossitis has been described in patients with a history of eczema, asthma or hayfever. It may be another name for transient lingual papillitis. These authors suggested the condition is due to increased environmental sensitivity of the tongue, similar to the increased sensitivity of the skin, lungs or nose resulting in eczema, asthma or hayfever respectively.

Clinical features of transient lingual papillitis

Classic form

The classic form of transient lingual papillitis presents as a single painful raised red or white bump on the tongue, usually towards the tip. It lasts 1-2 days then disappears, often recurring weeks, months or years later. There is no associated illness or lymph gland enlargement. Less commonly the lesions are more numerous, may disappear within hours or last several days, or may be associated with a burning or tingling sensation. Uncommonly the lesion(s) may not cause any symptoms. Some reports suggest an association with geographic tongue or scalloped markings on the side of the tongue.

Papulokeratotic variant

The papulokeratotic variant presents as recurrent multiple white bumps over the tongue that do not cause any symptoms. They may be persistent.

Eruptive lingual papillitis

Eruptive lingual papillitis is a systemic illness often associated with fever and lymph gland enlargement. The onset is sudden. An affected child may be reluctant to eat and produces excessive saliva. The tongue shows enlarged inflamed fungiform papillae on the tip and the sides of the tip but not the top. These may look like pustules. Angular cheilitis may be seen.

The illness lasts on average 1 week (range 2-15 days). Recurrences have been reported 1-2 months later with the same clinical features. Family members, parents and siblings, may develop symptoms on average one week later (range 1-15 days). In adults, the illness presents as a sudden intense burning of the tongue made worse by food. The clinical appearance is the same as in the child.

Eruptive lingual papillitis

How is transient lingual papillitis diagnosed?

Transient lingual papillitis and eruptive lingual papillitis are usually diagnosed clinically based on typical presentation.

Mucosal biopsy shows inflammation and swelling of a fungiform papilla, but is not usually necessary. Special stains fail to detect viral, fungal or bacterial infection. In the papulokeratotic variant, biopsy shows severe hyperparakeratosis and mild chronic inflammation.

Treatment of transient lingual papillitis

Usually no treatment is required for the classic form of transient lingual papillitis as the condition resolves within hours or days.

Treatments reported by some patients to give relief have included:

However, the majority of sufferers have found nothing to relieve the symptoms or prevent recurrence.

In eruptive lingual papillitis, paracetamol, ibuprofen and topical antiseptics have not been found to alter the duration or severity of the symptoms in children.

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Related information



  • Brannon RB, Flaitz CM. Transient lingual papillitis: A papulokeratotic variant. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2003;96:187-91.
  • Chaudhry SI, Buchanan JAG, Boulter A, Hodgson TA, Porter SR. Fungiform papillary glossitis: a ‘new’ diagnosis or a ‘misdiagnosis’? Brit J Dermatol 2006; 155: 642-3.
  • Marks R, Scarff CE, Yap LM, Verlinden V, Jolley VD, Campbell J. Fungiform papillary glossitis: atopic disease in the mouth? Brit J Dermatol 2005; 153: 740–745.
  • Roux O, Lacour JP, and Paediatricians of the region Var-Cote d’Azur. Eruptive lingual papillitis with household transmission: a prospective clinical study. Brit J Dermatol 2004; 150: 299–303.
  • Whitaker SB, Krupa JJ 3rd. Singh BB. Transient lingual papillitis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 1996;82:441-5.

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