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What Causes a White Tongue and Sore Throat?

A white tongue paired with a sore throat can signal several conditions, ranging from benign to serious. Causes include dehydration, oral thrush, or strep throat. Understanding the underlying issues is crucial for effective treatment. Each cause has distinct characteristics, which we'll explore in detail. Curious about what your symptoms might indicate? Keep reading to uncover more insights and images.
Alicia Sparks
Alicia Sparks

There are many causes of a white tongue and sore throat, and they can include conditions ranging from nicotine addiction to leukoplakia, which causes an overgrowth of oral cells. Most often, however, these symptoms are caused by a problem with fungus, bacteria, or a virus. Depending on the cause, a person might be able to treat them using at-home remedies, or he may need to see a medical professional.

Due to the numerous reasons a person can develop one, an oral yeast infection might be the most common cause of a white tongue and sore throat. An oral yeast infection, also known as thrush or candidiasis, is caused by an overgrowth of the yeast fungus Candida. Thrush is most prevalent among babies and the elderly, but diabetics and people with compromised immune systems are also susceptible to it. Generally healthy people who wear dentures, take birth control pills, or eat sugary foods or drink alcohol can also develop oral yeast infections. Often, people can cure oral yeast infections at home by eating yogurt with live active cultures to restore oral balance, but sometimes a prescription medication is necessary.

A person with a white tongue.
A person with a white tongue.

Examples of bacterial causes of a white tongue and sore throat include a sinus infection and strep throat, both of which usually are accompanied by other symptoms. A person with a sinus infection also might experience nasal congestion and discharge, post-nasal drip, and pain or pressure around the nose, eyes, and head. Sometimes, sinus infections also bring a fever. Generally, strep throat also brings a fever, a swollen tongue and lymph nodes, and redness or red patches on the tonsils and roof of the mouth. While there are various at-home remedies for sinus infections and strep throat, both usually require medical attention.

A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
A crossection of the human head, including the throat.

Both the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) can cause a white tongue and sore throat. Since yeast infections are common among people with HIV or AIDS, the surface cause is often fungal. Yet, the underlying root cause is the presence of the virus. Neither HIV nor AIDS can be cured, though the development of HIV can sometimes be prevented if caught within 72 hours of exposure. Still, the symptoms that accompany an oral yeast infection usually can be treated in much the same way as any other episode of thrush.

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Discussion Comments


Don't forgot that these are also symptoms of a rare tongue disorder. Geographic tongue? I have had it for several years and no longer find joy in eating. Basically, everything I eat hurts, so I cannot sit back and chew a good piece of steak. I tend to masticate a little bit then swallow, which does not help my digestive tract much.


My dad has been a smoker for most of his life. He has tried to quit many times, but it never seems to last for long.

Now that he is older, he is really starting to notice some long term effects from it. He kept getting sore throats, but never had a fever or a runny nose to go along with it.

Once when he mentioned it to his doctor, he asked him if he had bumps on his tongue with the sore throat. His answer was yes, and his doctor told him it was probably from his nicotine addiction.

It seems to come and go and sometimes is more painful than others. I am really hoping he will find a way to beat this addiction for good.


When my baby had thrush, I had no idea what was wrong with her. She was very fussy and didn't have an appetite at all. She wasn't running a fever, and she wasn't able to tell me if she had a sore throat.

When I saw what looked like sore bumps on her tongue, I took her to the pediatrician. She knew right away it was thrush and told me not to worry.

I was relieved to know it was nothing serious and it could easily be treated. It was scary not knowing what was wrong and knowing she was so miserable. After a few days, she was feeling much better and was finally hungry again.

My sister has diabetes, and she has developed thrush more than once.

She always knows she has this when she starts to get little white bumps on her tongue. Her doctor told her he sees this quite a bit in diabetics.

His first suggestion to her was to try eating some yogurt to see if that would help. She said the yogurt helped some, but didn't completely take care of the thrush.

Since it didn't work the first time, now she ends up taking medication to get rid of it.

I wonder if she ate yogurt on a daily basis if this would work to prevent this from happening?


I usually like to treat various problems with natural home remedies before I try a prescription medication.

That is never the case when it comes to strep throat though. The only thing I have found that helps with this is taking antibiotics.

Whenever I start to get a sore throat, I always look for other symptoms that are happening along with that. If my tongue starts to turn white and has little bumps on it, I head to the doctor.

Every time this has happened, it has been strep throat. Now that I know what to look for, I can get started on something before it gets too bad.

Because strep throat is contagious, especially if you are running a fever, I try to treat it as soon as possible. The last thing I need is to be in bed for a few days with a bad sore throat.


@shell4life – It could be that you are just eating the wrong kind of yogurt. Since you said it was blueberry, I'm assuming it is sweetened. Sugar, even in yogurt, can actually encourage the thrush.

If you can't stand to eat unsweetened yogurt, you could try acidophilus pills. These have the same active ingredient as yogurt, but you just swallow them. This should knock out the thrust, because it will restore the balance.

They aren't expensive at all. You can find them in just about any pharmacy, over by the vitamins and supplements. Personally, I hate the taste of yogurt, so I take these pills instead to keep yeast infections away, and it has worked for me.


I'm afraid that I may have oral thrush. I have these white patches on my tongue that are sore, and sometimes, if I eat a potato chip or something else rough, it will scratch them, and they will bleed. My throat is also slightly sore.

I don't have insurance, and that is the only reason I haven't been to a doctor. I have been eating a carton of blueberry yogurt every day, but the spots aren't going away. That worries me, because I know that this yogurt contains live cultures.

Could it be something else, or is it just a particularly persistent thrush that doesn't respond to yogurt? I hate to spend money to go to my doctor if I can treat this with something else at home. Anyone know what else I could try?


@kylee07drg – Strep throat is the worst! I had it one time, and I never forgot how bad it was. What I have to deal with more often now are chronic sinus infections.

Usually, one side of my throat will get sore, and I can see white bumps in my throat. It isn't like the allover soreness of strep throat. It's more like the area where the white bumps are is very dry and hard, and I can feel this when I swallow.

If I get the white bumps, I usually have to have antibiotics. If I simply have a congested nose, I usually just wait for it to go away. However, sometimes, the infection can travel down to my chest, and if this happens, I have to get treatment, or it will never go away.


I have had strep throat several times before, and each time, I had to go to the doctor. To say that my throat was sore would be an understatement. I could hardly swallow saliva.

My tongue had turned white, but that didn't bother me in the midst of the other more alarming strep throat symptoms. I had a fever of 101, and I was sweating and having trouble catching my breath. I could barely swallow water, which I really needed to be drinking while sick.

All of these symptoms appeared in a period of a few hours. I had been fine that morning, but once my throat started to get sore, it swelled rapidly, and the fever overcame me.

My doctor gave me a steroid shot, along with a steroid dose pack and a course of antibiotics. Apparently, strep is a powerful strain of bacteria, and antibiotics alone might not have been able to kick it.

@anamur-- It sounds like it could be strep throat or scarlet fever. Her doctor just needs to do a throat swab to diagnose either one of these.

My son had scarlet fever when he was around 5 yrs old I think. We thought it was strep throat at first and that he got it from his kindergarten. But he also started flushing and getting a reddish rash. The throat swab showed that it was scarlet fever.

I think it's normal for doctors not to expect this at first. Scarlet fever has an incubation period of a week or similar. And the beginning symptoms are very much like flu- fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and the like. Just head back to the doctor tomorrow morning. He's probably going to prescribe some antibiotics.


My seven year old daughter has been having these symptoms for about 4-5 days- a sore throat and white tongue. We took her to the doctor the second day of symptoms and he assumed that it was a minor case of flu and recommended lots of rest, fluids and pain relievers if necessary. However things haven't really looked up since.

She says that her throat is really sore and she doesn't want to eat anything. She only feels better when having warm liquids. Her tongue is also starting to look rather white and I think I'm seeing the beginnings of a rash on her arms.

Does anyone know what this could be?

I'm planning to take her back to her pediatrician tomorrow morning. But I'm upset that he didn't look further into this during our first visit last week. Just wondering if any other parents have seen this with their kids at any point and what the diagnosis was.


I had a bad bout of tonsilitis on top of oral thrush last month. It was so painful!I had a weird white coating on my tongue and a sore, painful throat. I was scared of something more serious when I went to my doctor but I was relieved to find out that both of these conditions are easily treatable.

I used a course of antibiotics as well as a course of anti-fungals. I also ate probiotic yogurt to help with the oral thrush. I was pretty much all better in a couple of weeks.

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    • A person with a white tongue.
      By: Ivan Montero
      A person with a white tongue.
    • A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
      By: pixelcaos
      A crossection of the human head, including the throat.
    • Getting antibiotics from a doctor may be necessary.
      By: Alexander Raths
      Getting antibiotics from a doctor may be necessary.
    • Nicotine addiction can cause a sore throat and white tongue.
      By: Grafvision
      Nicotine addiction can cause a sore throat and white tongue.
    • An oral yeast infection may cause a white tongue and sore throat.
      By: Artem Furman
      An oral yeast infection may cause a white tongue and sore throat.
    • Women taking birth control pills may develop an oral yeast infection.
      By: Kimberly Reinick
      Women taking birth control pills may develop an oral yeast infection.