Why is my tongue yellow?
The sign of a healthy tongue is of course that it is pink. However, tongues aren’t always a healthy pink, sometimes they can become yellow or other colour variations all of which indicate signs of either an unhealthy tongue or perhaps an illness. More often than not, a yellow tongue will go away on its own, although there are a few serious illnesses that can cause the strange symptom. Read on to learn how your tongue may have turned a strange shade of yellow, and how to treat it.
Causes of a yellow tongue
The causes of a yellow tongue vary greatly but in the main are not a sign of anything serious. These can include:
Poor oral hygiene
Food and bacteria collect on the tongues papillae (small round protuberances on the tongue) and without good oral hygiene can cause them to become enlarged resulting in the discolouration of the tongue. The easiest way to know your tongue discolouration is due to bad oral hygiene is your tongues yellow in the morning. Tobacco is another thing that can be caught on your tongue, causing it to turn yellow. The best way to help this symptom due to poor oral hygiene is to take better care of your teeth and mouth – remember to brush your tongue as well as your teeth.
Dry mouth/mouth breathing
This is a condition that can have more than one cause. Some people suffer from dry mouth all the time meaning that they do not produce enough saliva and others only suffer from mouth breathing. This is the result of sleeping with the mouth open. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. Dry mouth can also be caused by medication side effects, diabetes, illnesses like Sjogren’s Syndrome, and radiation or chemotherapy. Treating dry mouth can be dependent on your symptoms – for example, if you drink a lot of caffeine, you’ll find your mouth drier than if you don’t.
There is no known cause for geographic tongue but what is known is that it mainly affects children between the ages of four and five, and it may be genetic. The symptoms are red or white patches on the top and sides of the tongue surrounded by a yellow border. This condition can be extremely painful. Ultimately, geographic tongue is the missing of patches of papillae on your tongue.
Black hairy tongue
This is similar to the condition that is caused by poor oral hygiene in that it has the same results, yellow tongue. However, this condition is caused by the papillae on the tips and the sides of the tongue growing in size resulting in a collection of food and bacteria. Though “black” is in the name, your tongue can also turn yellow, or even other colors, before it ever turns black.
Any medicine that contains the chemical element can result in the appearance of a yellow tongue. An example of such a product would be Pepto-Bismol which is used to calm upset stomachs and give relief from diarrhea.
There are plenty of mouthwashes out there and everyone has a preferred brand. However, if your mouthwash contains peroxide, witch hazel, or menthol, it can change the color of your tongue a variety of colors, including yellow.
Smoking and Other Tobacco Use
Smoking is a very common cause of yellow tongue. This is because of the nicotine build up and is most recognisable by your tongue being yellow at the back. Though smoking is the most common culprit, yellow tongue can also be caused by chewing tobacco.
Less common causes of a yellow tongue are mainly linked to illnesses where a yellow tongue is a side effect. In these cases it is best to seek treatment from a doctor should the symptoms persist. These are:
Jaundice is mainly associated with newborn babies but adults can suffer from it too. Jaundice is known to be a symptom of liver disease, blood disease or perhaps a bile duct blockage. It is also a common side effect of hepatitis. Symptoms of jaundice don’t only include your tongue turning yellow, but also your skin will take on a yellow-ish hue, and the whites of your eyes will turn yellow as well.
Oral thrush is an overgrowth of the bacteria Candida that causes white patches on the tongue. These often, however, turn yellow over time. Oral thrush can be a sign of HIV but it needs to be made clear that the answer to the question ‘does a yellow tongue mean HIV?’ is an emphatic NO!
Eczema is known to weaken the bodies immune system allowing harmless bacteria to grow on the tongue. This can result in eczema sufferers having a yellow tongue. In fact, in a 2017 study 32 out of 35 yellow tongue sufferers had eczema.
The inflaming of the gastric lining that is associated with gastric conditions can cause yellow tongue.
This is a more serious medical condition that is related to dry mouth and mouth breathing. Unlike these conditions though xerostomia will need medical treatment. It’s causes also vary ranging from being a side effect of cancer treatments, autoimmune disorders and nerve damage to plain old smoking. Symptoms include a sticky dry mouth, trouble with chewing and swallowing and possibly trouble speaking.
Please note: the above lists are not exclusive and yellow tongue can also be caused by the following:
Scarlet fever, post-nasal drainage, urinary tract infections, tooth extractions, piercings, tonsillectomy, antibiotic use, oral care products, dehydration, acid reflux, fever, tongue irritations due to beverages, soft foods that don’t scrub off the tongue, and foods that contain yellow dye.
It is also worth noting that yellow tongue is not contagious and nor is it a sign of aging.
Treatment of yellow tongue
There are various different treatments for yellow tongue both medicinal and natural. You should, however, always consult your doctor if you find yellow tongue is painful, lasts more than two weeks, is worsening or home remedies are not working.
Usually, a doctor will only be able to help with certain yellow tongue causes. For example, if your yellow tongue is caused by medications he has already prescribed, he may choose to change your prescription. If it is a result of dry mouth, mouth breathing or xerostomia he may be able to give you something that will help you create saliva.
In general, the best treatments for yellow tongue are home remedies. As an example, you could use five parts water mixed with one part peroxide to clean your tongue. This will clean the tongue of bacteria and food particles.
More specific home remedies can also be effective in the treatment of yellow tongue and include:
Black hairy tongue
Brush teeth twice a day and rinse your mouth frequently throughout the day with water. Also, use a tongue scraper to clear your tongue of bacteria and food. In addition, avoid smoking as it can worsen yellow tongue due to tobacco use.
Dry Mouth/Mouth Breathing
To help with dry mouth, try to pinpoint the cause. If caused by a medication, you may need to change the dosage or even switch to a different medication – consult your doctor for advice. In addition, your doctor may be able to give you medication or a special mouth rinse that increases the amount of saliva in your mouth, relieving your dry mouth. Throughout the day, make sure to drink water or sugar-free drinks, and avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. You can also chew sugarless gum to stimulate the saliva within your mouth. For mouth breathing at night, consider investing in a humidifier to add moisture to the air that you’re breathing in.
Over the counter pain relievers or mouth rinses with an anesthetic can relieve painful symptoms. In addition, consult your doctor for a corticosteroid ointment or a rinse to help with discomfort.
It’s important to note that in the case of jaundice, if you find that your tongue, skin, and eyes are all yellow (or a combination of the three), and your yellow tongue is accompanied by abdominal pain, bloody stools, vomiting, fever, easy bleeding, or easy bruising, you need to seek medical attention.
If your jaundice is caused by an infection such as hepatitis, you may be given medication by your doctor. If it is caused by a blood disorder (like sickle cell anemia), you may need a blood transfusion, or medication. Make sure to protect your liver by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, so that you can avoid such procedures as a liver transplant.
Prevention of yellow tongue
In many cases yellow tongue can be avoided and as we all know prevention is better than cure! Simple things like sipping water, avoiding caffeine and soda, stopping smoking, lowering alcohol intake and avoiding spicy or salty foods will help.
For those times when a yellow tongue is down to bad oral hygiene, a simple improvement in your oral care regime will help. You could try brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing, using a fluoride mouthwash and ensuring you visit your dentist on a regular basis. Avoid sweets, and if you do eat them, make sure to brush your teeth soon afterwards.
Yellow tongue can be an alarming symptom, but it is rarely a serious one. If all else fails, make sure to consult your doctor for help in treating it – it could be due to something that you don’t even know that you’re doing, such as breathing through your mouth at night.