Yellow tongue is a usually benign condition which occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce pigments which cause the tongue to develop a yellow coating. A yellow coated tongue may look slightly alarming, but it does not indicate the presence of a major medical problem except in very rare cases. There are several ways to address a yellow tongue, including improving oral hygiene, using medications to cut down on the bacteria in the mouth, or making diet and lifestyle changes.
People usually develop a yellow tongue when their tastebuds become swollen, creating a rough surface which allows bacteria to adhere and build up pigment. Some common yellow tongue causes include: poor oral hygiene, certain medications, fever, dehydration, and mouth breathing. In addition to being coated in yellowish material, the tongue may look or feel hairy and bumpy.
Immediate treatment of yellow tongue can be as simple as brushing the tongue with a toothbrush or using a tongue scraper. Some people like to brush their tongues with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to bring up the bacteria and remove the pigment, although this is not necessary. People who know that they are sick with a fever or cold which is causing them to breathe through their mouths may opt to wait out the yellow tongue, as it should resolve once the mild illness goes away.
Individuals who smoke or consume lots of tea or coffee may want to moderate their diets if they are bothered by yellow tongue. If there is no apparent reason for yellow tongue, the patient should visit a doctor to have a culture taken to determine which organisms are present. Candida sometimes colonizes the mouth and causes a yellowish or white coating to appear, for example. It can be eliminated with medication, however.
Certain medical problems such as infection with HIV and liver disease can sometimes cause the tongue to develop a yellow coating. Usually yellow tongue appears long after patients have been diagnosed. People who develop yellowish tongues for no apparent reason should visit a doctor if the symptoms don't resolve themselves within several days.
In traditional Chinese medicine, yellow tongue is considered to be a symptom of damp heat. In tongue diagnosis, a practitioner examines the tongue to learn more about the internal systems of the body. If the tongue is yellowish, it suggests that the patient has a yang deficiency, an excess of damp heat in the body, and possibly spleen or stomach problems.