Yellow tongue: Causes, Symptoms & Chinese Remedies

Picture of yellow tongue


Yellow tongue a yellow discoloration of your tongue is usually a temporary, harmless problem. Most often, yellow tongue is an early sign of a disorder known as black hairy tongue. Rarely, yellow tongue may be a sign of jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes and skin, which sometimes indicates liver or gallbladder problems.

Self-care is usually all that’s needed to treat yellow tongue, unless it’s related to another medical condition.

Yellow Tongue Causes

A white or yellow tongue looks a lot like a map also known as a geographic tongue. Each little wrinkle, bump, patch, and color can help reveal the cause of your yellow tongue. The following is a detailed synopsis on the yellow tongue causes:

  • Black hairy tongue or black furry tongue: A black tongue that is furry or hairy is the most common cause of a yellow tongue. This can be due to smoking tobacco, poor oral hygiene, being dehydrated, taking certain medications, or radiation therapy to your neck and head. When the tongue is yellow due to a black furry tongue, there are likely other symptoms like hair on the tongue and a metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Antibiotic use: It is also common to have a yellow tongue coating after using antibiotics. This is because the drugs cause an imbalance of flora or microbes throughout the body, including your gut and mouth.
  • Excess bacteria growth: A thick yellow coating on the tongue is a clear sign of poor digestion, and intestinal permeability or gut flora imbalance. You will see a white or yellow coating on the tongue, and may have bad breath.
  • Post-nasal drainage: A white or yellow coating on the tongue is common after post-nasal drainage. It is a condition characterized by excessive mucus accumulation at the back of the throat and nose. Causes of post-nasal drainage include sinusitis, allergies, acid reflux, and rhinitis.
  • Jaundice: Jaundice will most often occur due to an underlying cause. In any case there is excess bilirubin, which are red blood cells with yellow pigment.
  • UTI infections: It is also thought that a thick and yellow coating on the back of your tongue may indicate a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Other yellow tongue causes include fever, scarlet fever, dehydration, mouth breathing, acid reflux, dry mouth, poor oral hygiene, or excessive caffeine or tobacco use.

Yellow Tongue Linked with Other Diseases

A yellow tongue can also indicate a variety of other health problems. There following are some severe conditions that may be associated with your yellow tongue:

  • HIV/aids: A yellow tongue is also a rare sign of HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome). In HIV, the yellow tongue coating is usually caused by an oral infection due to a weakened immune system. Oral thrush, dry mouth, tooth decay, canker sores, cold sores, and gum disease are all signs of HIV of the mouth.
  • Cancer: Some people may fear oral cancer when there is a yellow coating on the tongue. However, yellow tongue is probably due to another problem unless you show other signs of oral cancer like unexplained bleeding in the mouth, numbness or a loss of feeling in the mouth, difficulty chewing, speaking, swallowing, or moving the tongue or jaw, and sudden weight loss.
  • Strep throat and sore throat: Sometimes the problem is due to a yellow tongue, sore throat or strep throat. As a result, there may also be other symptoms like coughing, earaches, fatigue, swollen glands or lymph nodes, a stuffy nose, cold sores, bad breath, and yellow mucus on the tongue. In strep throat, there may be tiny white and yellow spots at the back of your tongue and tonsils.
  • Mononucleosis (mono): Mononucleosis is commonly called mono. It is often caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EPV) and is transmitted by saliva. In the condition, the tongue and tonsils may develop a white and yellow coating. Other symptoms of mono include fatigue, swollen lymph glands in the armpits and neck, a sore throat, fever, night sweats, and muscle weakness.
  • Yellow under tongue: If you have a yellow coating on the tongue, you may also have a yellow coating under the tongue as well. Common causes of a yellow coating under the tongue include gallbladder disease, mononucleosis, alcoholic hepatitis, viral hepatitis, hepatitis A and B, EPV, cirrhosis, sickle cell anemia, and gallstones.

Symptoms of a Yellow Tongue

Depending on the cause, yellow tongue symptoms may include a bad taste in mouth, bad breath, colddry mouth, fever, sore throat, burning sensation, little bumps on the tonguered spots on throat/tongue, achy/stiff joints, acid reflux, and furry tongue that’s yellow in color.

The yellow discolorations may appear on the back of the tongue, at the tip of the tongue, under the tongue, or on the sides. Sometimes, your roof of the mouth, gums, inside cheeks, and other parts of your mouth might turn yellowish.

Additionally, you may experience a yellow tongue right in the morning when you wake up. It all depends on what could be behind it.

When to see a doctor

Medical treatment for yellow tongue usually isn’t necessary. If tongue discoloration bothers you, try gently brushing your tongue with a solution that is 1 part hydrogen peroxide and 5 parts water once a day. Rinse your mouth with water afterward several times.

Quitting smoking and increasing fiber in your diet also may help by decreasing the bacteria in your mouth that cause yellow tongue and reducing the buildup of dead skin cells.

Schedule a doctor’s visit if:

  • You’re concerned about persistent discoloration of your tongue
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes also appear yellow, as this may suggest jaundice

Yellow Tongue Treatments: Chinese Remedies

A white and yellow coating on the tongue often indicates either wind-cold transforming into wind-heat, or just wind-heat. A yellow coating on the tongue will also indicate a yang deficiency.
Thankfully, there are various Chinese remedies for yellow tongue. Chinese herbal remedies can help treat the root cause of your yellow tongue. It is a good idea to consult a traditional Chinese medicine doctor or herbalist to help select the appropriate remedy for your yellow tongue cause. Some Chinese herbs for yellow tongue caused by excess bacteria growth or oral thrush include coptis, skullcap, rehmannia, Chinese angelica, licorice root, bupleurum, alisma, plantago, rhubarb, forsythia, gardenia, and chrysanthemum.

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