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Exactly What to Do If You Burn Your Tongue, According to a Doctor

We asked an MD to weigh in and give us the treatment plan for a burnt tongue.
Girl cringing at hot coffee cups

If you're like us, you've experienced a burnt tongue one too many times. We're all guilty of trying to drink our coffee or tea too quickly, right?

But you know the feeling—you submerge your tongue into an all-too-toasty treat, and once you've realized it's too hot for comfort, the damage has already been done.

Your tastebuds can quite literally feel swollen for hours on end, thanks to that unexpected blast of heat that they briefly endured. Sometimes, it may feel like you can't taste food correctly for several hours after those painful few seconds have come and gone.

To help burnt tongues everywhere, we spoke with Cedrina L. Calder, MD, to find out exactly what you need to do after you burn your tongue on a piping hot meal or drink.

What should you do immediately after you've burned your tongue?

"After you realize that you've burned your tongue, you should immediately spit out the food or liquid if possible. This is to prevent the food or drink from continuing to burn your mouth, throat or esophagus," says Calder. "Next, hold some ice water in your mouth to cool the burned area on your tongue. You can also use cold milk or yogurt, which helps coat and soothe the damaged tissue."

Treatment:

"It's important to keep the burn clean. This can be done by doing salt water rinses daily," she says. Calder also recommends that you continue to hold ice water, cold milk, or yogurt in your mouth to numb the affected area, as this will help alleviate the discomfort. Honey is also a good, natural way to treat the tender area because it helps the wounded area heal.

Depending on how severe the burn is, Calder says you can also opt for a topical benzocaine ointment and take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Advil.

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What should you absolutely NOT do after you burn your tongue?

"After burning your tongue, you should avoid hot foods and liquids, spicy foods, acidic foods and beverages, and tobacco. All of these can irritate the already damaged tissue," says Calder. "You should also avoid brushing your tongue until it heals."

What happens to your tongue when you "burn" it, and how long does it take for a burnt tongue to heal?

Calder explains that once you have burned your tongue, you essentially damage its tissue cells, and it could take between two to three days to get back to normal. "If it takes much longer than that, or you develop blisters, you should see your doctor for an evaluation," she says.

If you burn your tongue repeatedly, could this damage your taste buds long-term?

"If the burn is severe enough, you can damage your taste buds. However, this is typically only temporary, as they normally grow back without any issues," says Calder.

Any tips on how you can avoid burning your tongue?

Calder's advice is pretty simple, yet wise, for those of us who repeatedly scorch our tongue's precious tissue cells.

"To avoid burning your tongue, allow foods and liquids to cool off properly before eating or drinking. Cheesy foods, soups, coffee, and tea all are common culprits when it comes to tongue burns," says Calder.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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