Papillae: Type and Causes

picture of papillae-on-tongue


Bumps are small pimple like structure found on the back tongue either on the top or on the backside of the tongue. It known as papillae and would cause pain and irritation. Bumps are formed due to the infection caused by the fungus and it may affect your taste buds. However, if the bumps on the back of the tongue appear to be growing or changing they should be investigated to determine what is wrong.

Normally bumps on tongue are white or colorless and it may vary in size ranging from small to moderate size. It occurs due to the infection caused by fungiform papillae. It would cause pain and irritation and you often feel like running your tongue across the teeth. Bumps lie on the tongue like stains or plaque.

Some bumps are red in color. Bumps would give you tingling sensation along with irritation because of inflammation. You may have difficulty in eating and swallowing and even while talking, if you have large sized bumps on your tongue. Bumps on an average take one week to heal on its own.

Causes of Papillae

Natural Bumps

The papillae that contain the taste buds on the tongue form in a V that leads to the back of the throat. You also have lingual tonsils or a round mass of lymphatic tissue at the back of the tongue that will look like a bump.

These bumps are always at the back of the tongue, but different conditions may change their appearance. Sinus infections are known to enlarge the papillae. Some people simply have taste buds that are naturally large. Sometimes eating spicy foods can inflame the taste buds as well.


If you bite or burn your tongue it can cause bumps to appear, but this is more likely to occur at the front of the tongue rather than the back. Sometimes brushing too hard with your toothbrush can cause the tongue to become irritated and bumps to appear.

In most cases applying a saltwater or antiseptic mouth rinse will help the bumps heal. If you leave the bumps alone they will usually heal on their own. Your doctor can also prescribe you a medication that will clear up the bumps if they are stemming from another infection.


Allergies, particularly those to medications or food, can cause bumps to appear on any part of the tongue. These bumps will usually be larger toward the back of the tongue. Bumps caused by an allergic reaction will typically appear within a few minutes of coming into contact with the substance that caused the irritation. You may also notice swelling or welts on the face. Allergic reactions can cause mild to severe symptoms so it is important to monitor your condition closely to determine if you will require medical intervention.

You can usually treat these bumps or swelling with antihistamines, but if the swelling is severe you may need to get medical attention to ensure that you can breathe.

Canker Sores

Canker sores can appear on any part of the mouth, including the tongue. Canker sores are a small ulcer that has a white or yellow center with a red outline. They tend to be painful and swell as well.Canker sores can be treated with a saltwater rinse, but for the most part they will need to heal on their own.

Kawasaki Disease

This is an autoimmune disease that typically affects children. It causes red bumps that are fairly large to appear on the back of the tongue. Kawasaki disease often causes cracked lips, fever, swollen lymph nodes, redness in the palms or soles of the feet, bloodshot eyes or joint pain in addition to spots on the tongue.There is not much known about this disease; however it can lead to the tongue turning a very dark color and can be fatal if it is not treated.


Warts typically appear in different areas of the oral cavity but they can occasionally appear on the tongue. Warts will either be a common infection that is caused by placing an infected finger in the mouth or genital warts that have been contracted by performing oral sex on someone with the infection.Warts in the mouth will typically appear in clusters or as a singular growth. They will be a raised bump that has a wrinkled, smooth or spiky appearance. They may have a slight discoloration compared to nearby tissue which takes on a red, pink or whitish color. Warts should not be painful.

Oral Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection that causes a white or yellow coating to appear. Lesions of thrust can appear on your palate, gums, tonsils or the tongue. The tissue beneath the lesions might be red and the tissue may be quick to bleed if you scratch away the coating.Thrush will typically appear on the insides of the cheeks, the roof of the mouth or the gums. The lesions might be painful and they tend to bleed. Thrush lesions may affect your ability to taste. These bumps will typically multiply and grow very quickly.


This condition will also cause thick, white lesions to appear in the mouth. This may include raised bumps on the gums, cheeks and tongue. These bumps are benign but they might be precancerous. In some cases, red lesions known as erythroplakia will appear. Wrinkled patches on the side of the tongue known as hairy leukoplakia are also common.Leukoplakia patches can appear anywhere in the mouth. It usually takes a long period of time for these patches to form and become thick and hard. These lesions are not usually painful but they may be sensitive to spicy food or heat.

Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever bumps can appear on the mouth. This will also cause the tongue to turn bright red. These bumps will get larger in size.Scarlet fever starts out as a rash on the abdomen or chest that spreads across the entire body. You may also develop a very high fever or sore throat.


Oral bumps that are painless are rarely malignant, but any bump on the tongue runs the risk of being cancerous.Bumps caused by cancer will typically be reddish or white and will be very easy to bleed. You may also notice ear pain, recurrent sore throats, and numbness in the area or bad breath. Some also report that they have difficulty swallowing or chewing because the bump is painful.