Many people enjoy the tingling and burning sensations in your mouth triggered by eating spicy dishes with a lot of heat. On the other hand, uncomfortable oral burning and tingling not due spicy food often signals an underlying medical or dental problem. Possible culprits include allergies, nutritional deficiencies and diseased or broken teeth, among others.
Oral Allergy Syndrome
People with hay fever — an allergy to pollen from plants or trees — sometimes experience an oral reaction to certain fruits and/or vegetables, especially if eaten raw. This special type of food allergy called oral allergy syndrome (OAS) or pollen-food allergy syndrome typically causes burning and tingling of the mouth, tongue and possibly the lips and throat after eating a triggering food. These symptoms occur because the immune system confuses some of the proteins in the offending foods with plant pollens that provoke hay fever symptoms.
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The foods that cause OAS differ from one person to another based on the specific types of pollens to which you are allergic. For example, people who are allergic to birch pollen commonly experience OAS symptoms after eating apples, pears and pitted fruits like cherries, apricots and plums, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In contrast, those with a ragweed allergy often experience OAS symptoms after consuming melons, bananas, zucchini, cucumbers or chamomile tea.
True Food Allergy
Whereas an underlying pollen allergy is responsible for the symptoms of OAS, mouth burning and tingling along with other symptoms can also occur in people with a "true" food allergy — meaning an allergy specifically to the proteins found in certain foods.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the foods most likely to trigger a food allergy include cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
In addition to itchy gums or a burning sensation in the mouth, other possible symptoms of a food allergy include:
- Hives or generalized itchiness
- Nasal stuffiness
- Stomach cramps
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Swelling beneath the skin surface called angioedema, especially around the eyes and lips
A food allergy sometimes triggers a severe reaction called anaphylaxis, characterized by throat tightness, wheezing, difficulty breathing and dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care.
Irritation of your mouth and/or tongue tissues can cause sensitivity to hot, spicy, sour or acidic foods leading to mouth burning or tingling. Many conditions can potentialy lead to mouth irritation, including:
- Recurring canker sores, also known as aphthous ulcers
- Oral thrush, an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth
- Viral infection, such as oral herpes or chickenpox
- Dry mouth
- Celiac disease
- Crohn disease
- Deficiency of iron, vitamin B12 or vitamin C
- Chemotherapy treatment
- Head and neck radiation treatment
- Poorly-fitting dentures
- Broken or decayed teeth
Seeing your primary care doctor is usually the best way to start an evaluation if you experience burning or tingling in your mouth triggered by eating or drinking. In some cases, seeing your dentist first makes more sense if you suspect your symptoms might be caused by a dental problem.
After performing a physical examination and collecting information about symptom triggers and the frequency and duration of your symptoms, your doctor might order some blood tests. You might also get a referral to an allergist for testing if your doctor suspects a food allergy or oral allergy syndrome.
Treatment for oral burning and tingling after eating depends on the cause. With OAS, the primary treatment involves avoidance of the offending food(s). Some people can tolerate triggering foods if they've been cooked because the heat often breaks down the food proteins that lead to an oral reaction. Scrupulous avoidance of the food(s) to which you are allergic is typically the cornerstone of treatment for a true food allergy.
Treatments for other causes of oral burning or tingling might include one or more of the following:
- Dental treatment
- Medicinal mouth rinses
- Vitamin or mineral supplements
- Medication to treat an underlying medical disorder, such as Crohn disease
Call 911 immediately if you experience any signs or symptoms that might signal an anaphylactic reaction, including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, throat or chest tightness, and dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Food Allergy
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) or Pollen Fruit Syndrome (PFS)
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: International Consensus on Food Allergy
- Journal of Allergy: Oral Allergy Syndrome: An Update for Stomatologists
- Merck Manual Professional Version: Stomatitis
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.