What Causes Skin Tags on Tongue?

Marco Sumayao
Marco Sumayao
Age and obesity may increase the likelihood of tongue skin tags.
Age and obesity may increase the likelihood of tongue skin tags.

Experts believe that the most common cause of a tongue skin tag is friction — small, loose fleshy growths can appear on areas where skin frequently rubs against skin. Age and obesity have been found to increase the likelihood of skin tags developing in individuals. Significant increases in hormone levels are also correlated with skin tag development. In some cases, people can confuse small folds in the plica fimbriata, a natural structure of the tongue, for skin tags; in others, it could be a wart rather than an actual tag. The only serious possible cause for a tongue skin tag is mouth cancer, although these cases are much rarer than others.

Increases in hormone levels may cause tongue skin tags.
Increases in hormone levels may cause tongue skin tags.

The chance a single individual has of developing a tongue skin tag depends on a number of factors. Studies have found that older individuals tend to have them more than young people and overweight individuals have an increased risk of developing the growths over normal-weight or thin people. Heredity also plays a role, as some people can be more prone to having skin tags than others. Tongue skin tags are generally more uncommon than those that develop in other areas, although this could be a result of the tongue tags simply being less noticeable than ones on the neck and other common places.

A tongue skin tag biopsy should be performed to determine whether or not the growth is cancerous.
A tongue skin tag biopsy should be performed to determine whether or not the growth is cancerous.

Many individuals mistake the plica fimbriata, the small fold of the mucous membrane on the bottom side of the tongue, for a skin tag. The membrane can extend a smaller fold slightly outward, creating a bump that feel like a tongue skin tag. These bumps are naturally-occurring and require no treatment.

Although uncommon, the tongue can develop warts when exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV). These bumps can also be mistaken for tongue skin tags, but differ from the plica fimbriata folds largely because they are highly contagious. Individuals who suspect they have warts inside the mouth should refrain from exposing others to the virus and seek treatment immediately, as warts thrive in the mouth's warm, moist environment. The warts can be cut, cauterized, or frozen off.

Cigarette use is a possible cause of tongue skin tags.
Cigarette use is a possible cause of tongue skin tags.

If a tongue skin tag appears either reddish or whitish in color and occurs in only one side of the mouth, the patient should have the growth checked by a doctor. Tags that match the description and cause no discomfort might be symptomatic of oral cancer. A tongue skin tag biopsy should be performed to determine whether or not the growth is cancerous. If it is, patients should seek immediate treatment.

What Is a Skin Tag?

Tongue skin tags may develop as people age.
Tongue skin tags may develop as people age.

If you've ever noticed a small, painless bump of flesh somewhere on your body that's roughly the same color or a bit darker than the surrounding skin, you may have a skin tag. Skin tags are small, benign growths on the skin. They are noncancerous and typically appear in the following places:

  • Eyelids
  • Armpits
  • Neck
  • Under breasts
  • In the groin area

Causes of Skin Tags

Scientists aren't exactly sure what causes skin tags, but because they tend to appear in places on people's bodies where there is a lot of movement, they think the cause may be friction-related. The development of skin tags may also be related to human papillomavirus — which is commonly known as HPV — pregnancy, and insulin resistance. Diabetics and prediabetics don't absorb glucose into the bloodstream the right way, and some researchers think that skin tags could be related to this symptom.

How Are Skin Tags Removed?

If your skin tags bother you, or if they are in an area that others notice and this bothers you, you can usually get them removed. Some skin tags, such as those on your eyelid, may be more difficult to remove than tags in the armpit or neck area. There are several options for removing skin tags including cryotherapy, in which the tags are frozen off, surgery, and ligation, where the tag's blood supply is cut off with a surgical thread.

Don't try to remove your skin tags by yourself as this could lead to unwanted injury and avoidable scarring. Most physicians advise patients to leave skin tags alone or have them professionally removed.

Skin Tags vs Moles

Many people wonder if their skin tags are similar to moles and freckles. After all, these little bumps grow on your skin and look similar to other fleshy growths such as moles. Most skin tags are skin-colored or slightly darker than the surrounding skin and hang off the skin by a "stalk" or a peduncle. Moles, in contrast, lay flat or are slightly raised.

The biggest difference between moles and skin tags is not their appearances — moles are abnormal areas of cell growth that can sometimes be cancerous. Skin tags are benign and do not turn into skin cancer. Freckles are not related to either as they are simply areas of darker pigmentation on your skin that are caused by genetics and sunlight. Freckles, like skin tags, do not become cancerous.

Skin Tag on Tongue

You may be surprised to notice a skin tag on your tongue. This is not a typical area for skin tags to grow — and these bumps you notice are actually not skin tags as skin tags do not grow on mucous membranes such as inside the mouth or on the inside of the body in general. They're normal growths on the tongue area called Plica Fimbriata.

Plica Fimbriata vs HPV

Plica Fimbriata is the term used to describe the small raised bumps on the underside of your tongue. They can be small or large, and at times they may get caught in your teeth or cause discomfort. Like skin tags, they do not turn into cancer and cannot harm you or your oral health. You may notice these little bumps next to the frenulum, which is the tissue that connects your tongue to your mouth. If they get infected, they may be painful, red, and swollen.

While HPV may play a role in skin tag development, the development of HPV sores in the mouth looks different. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and many people have no symptoms. If you do have symptoms from HPV, they will not resemble skin tags or Plica Fimbriata. You may notice warts, sores, or swollen tonsils.

When To See the Doctor About a Skin Tag

Skin tags are generally harmless and only cause problems for the person if they are bothered by the tag's appearance. As you've learned, skin tags can appear in numerous places on the human body and can be removed with several methods at the doctor's office. If you notice any uncomfortable changes in your skin tags, or if you simply don't like the way they look, ask your doctor if he or she can remove them.

Occasionally, a skin tag can become infected. This is rare. If you notice pain, swelling, or pus oozing from a skin tag, it's time to see a doctor immediately. Similarly, if you're not sure that the bump on your neck is a skin tag or a possibly cancerous mole, get it checked out as soon as possible by a qualified medical professional.

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Discussion Comments

anon345740

HPV cannot be treated with the antibiotics as it is a virus. However, the common cause of tongue tag looking warts from HPV are by types 6 and 11, and according to online sources, are not contagious.

anon291539

Is there any chance that it will reoccur after surgery? What is the difference between a skin tag and an oral wart? Is it expensive to have it removed? How about the post surgery feeling?

SarahGen

@turkay1, @feruze-- Did you guys know that steroids can cause skin tags?

I knew that being overweight, pregnant and having diabetes were risk factors for skin tags but I didn't know that steroid use was a risk factor as well. My brother who has been on prescribed steroids for pain relief started getting skin tags on his neck, armpits and eyelids. He even got a few on his tongue. I didn't even know it was possible to get them on the tongue until it happened to my brother.

For a long time, he couldn't figure out why he was getting so many skin tags all of the sudden. Finally my uncle, who is a dermatologist, was able to shed some light on it. It turns out that steroids makes the collagen and fibers in our skin bind to each other and that causes skin tags. Who knew.

bear78

@turkay1-- Yea, the main cause is friction, usually when skin rubs against skin. But there could be other reasons too, like abnormal cell growth (cancer) or when the skin is trying to heal itself (like cuts or fissures).

I had a skin tag form soon after a tongue piercing. My doctor said that while my skin was trying to heal from the piercing, scar tissue piled in the area and resulted in the skin tag.

Thankfully, having it removed was really easy. My doctor first froze it and then cut it off. It was not painful and it healed very quickly.

candyquilt

I thought that skin tags happen when the skin folds over and there is friction between them. But how does that happen on the tongue?

I have a skin tag on the tip of my tongue. It appeared out of nowhere a couple of days ago. It hurts a little bit because it gets irritated while I talk and eat.

I asked my dentist about it over the phone and he said it can happen but he didn't really explain how. I just hope it's not anything serious. I have an appointment next week to have my doctor check it out and probably remove it.

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    • Age and obesity may increase the likelihood of tongue skin tags.
      By: Tracy King
      Age and obesity may increase the likelihood of tongue skin tags.
    • Increases in hormone levels may cause tongue skin tags.
      By: ArenaCreative
      Increases in hormone levels may cause tongue skin tags.
    • A tongue skin tag biopsy should be performed to determine whether or not the growth is cancerous.
      By: nandyphotos
      A tongue skin tag biopsy should be performed to determine whether or not the growth is cancerous.
    • Cigarette use is a possible cause of tongue skin tags.
      By: Nomad_Soul
      Cigarette use is a possible cause of tongue skin tags.
    • Tongue skin tags may develop as people age.
      By: mariesacha
      Tongue skin tags may develop as people age.