Bumps on the Back of the Tongue: Papillae, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), or What? (2024)

While the tongue normally has tiny bumps called papillae, bumps on the back of the tongue are often from irritation or slight injuries to the tongue. The bumps might also be due to an infection or another underlying health condition.

This article will discuss what may cause papillae to become enlarged or other bumps to form on the back of the tongue. It will also cover treatment options and when to contact a healthcare provider.

Bumps on the Back of the Tongue: Papillae, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), or What? (1)

How Bumps on Back of Tongue Could Look

Bumps on the back of the tongue can vary in appearance based on their underlying cause. They may appear white, red, or the color of the tongue.

The bumps can be firm or fluid-filled blisters. The bumps can be accompanied by redness, swelling, or discharge based on the case.

Normal vs. Enlarged Papillae

Normal papillae will appear as little bumps on the top of the tongue. They help grip food when eating and contain taste buds. Papillae that become enlarged and appear as bumps could be from one of several underlying issues, as discussed below.

Reasons for Enlarged, Swollen Papillae

Enlarged, swollen papillae occur for several different reasons. The reasons are categorized into infectious and noninfectious causes.

Infectious Causes of Tongue Bumps Near Throat

Various infections can cause bumps on the back of the tongue. Infections that affect the mouth and tongue include:

  • Oral herpes (cold sores): Fluid-filled sores that rupture after two days and crust over
  • Syphilis: Round, firm, and painless chancres in the mouth and on the tongue
  • Scarlet fever: Red, bumpy tongue, also called strawberry tongue, with white patches on the tonsils
  • Thrush: White patches or bumps on the back of the tongue and in the mouth

Noninfectious Causes of Tongue Bumps Near Throat

  • Tongue injury: Injury to the tongue can cause bumps and sores
  • Canker sores: White or yellow painful sores on the tongue or mouth
  • Transient lingual papillitis (lie bumps): When tongue irritation causes painful white or red bumps on the tongue
  • Cancer: Tongue cancer is rare and accounts for 1% of all new cancer cases. When the cancer is on the back of the tongue it is considered oropharyngeal or throat cancer. There may be white patches on the tongue, ear pain, and a sore throat

What Medications Can Cause Tongue Bumps?

Medications can cause tongue sores and bumps. They are:

  • Aspirin
  • Beta-blockers
  • Penicillin
  • Phenytoin
  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Sulfa drugs

Before stopping or switching a medication, talk to your treating healthcare provider.

How to Treat Bumps on the Back of the Tongue and Sore Throat

Bumps on the back of the tongue will need to be treated according to their cause. When a bump has an infectious cause antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal drugs may be used.

Noninfectious causes supportive therapy and good oral hygiene might be the best route.

General ways to keep the mouth clean and treat oral concerns are:

  • Avoid spicy, acidic and hot foods.
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Drink cool drinks.
  • Use a soft toothbrush.
  • Take medications as prescribed.

You May Not Need to Treat Papillae

Papillae are a normal tongue structure. They do not need to be treated for any health condition or cause.

When papillae become infected, inflamed, or appear abnormal, a healthcare provider should be seen to determine the right treatment plan.

Complications From Bumps in the Back of the Throat

When there are bumps in the back of the throat or on the tongue it can be indicative of an infection or noninfectious health condition. If these conditions go untreated they can cause complications. This complication can vary by cause. Some complications that can occur are:

  • Throat or tongue swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Rheumatic fever (inflammatory response to a bacterial infection)

When to See a Healthcare Provider

When someone has bumps on their tongue and do not know the cause, they should see a healthcare provider. Other reasons to contact a healthcare provider are:

  • Worsening symptoms
  • Tongue or mouth pain
  • Tongue or mouth swelling
  • Fever
  • Rash

A Word From Verywell

Any nonhealing lesion of more than two weeks presenting with additional symptoms (fevers, swelling, etc.) warrants a visit with a healthcare provider. If feasible, take photos with your phone to monitor changes in the lesion to avoid memory errors.

BRIAN T. LUONG, DMD, MEDICAL EXPERT BOARD

Bumps on the Back of the Tongue: Papillae, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), or What? (2)

Summary

Bumps on the back of the tongue can be from a medical condition or in response to an injury or irritation. The bumps are either painless or painful and accompanied by other symptoms. It's best to contact a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of the bumps and to get prompt treatment.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. MedlinePlus. Mouth sores.

  2. Cedars Sinai. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) mouth infection.

  3. Nemours KidsHealth. What are papillae?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis - CDC basic fact sheet.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scarlet fever: all you need to know.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.

  7. MedlinePlus. Tongue problems.

  8. National Institute of Health. Fever blisters & canker sores.

  9. DermNet. Transient lingual papillitis.

  10. National Cancer Institute. Cancer stat facts: tongue cancer.

  11. National Cancer Institute. Oropharyngeal cancer treatment.

  12. NHS. Sore or white tongue.

Bumps on the Back of the Tongue: Papillae, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), or What? (3)

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Weasler is a Wisconsin-based registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care.

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