What the color of the tongue reveals about health
The tongue is a true all-rounder: Without it, many everyday things like tasting, speaking, sucking or swallowing would not be possible. But the tongue is also a reflection of health. It can be used to recognize innumerable changes and illnesses.
Diagnose diseases by looking at the tongue
Open your mouth and stick your tongue out: In traditional Chinese medicine, looking at the tongue is one of the most important diagnostic methods. Diseases have been diagnosed with the appearance of the tongue for thousands of years. Nowadays, western school medical professionals also track down diseases of the tongue.
When the color, shape or coating of the tongue change
A healthy tongue is pink with a light white coating. Their surface is moist, smooth and even.
However, if it looks significantly different, and not just for a few hours, it can be an indication of an illness.
"Health disorders manifest themselves by changing the color, shape or coating of the tongue," explained Dr. Uso Walter, a registered ENT doctor from Duisburg and chairman of the ENT-NRW in an older message.
"For example, the tongue can be thicker or thinner, more heavily coated or reddened, or suddenly there are tooth prints on the edge of the tongue."
What the color changes of the tongue can tell
According to health experts, a tongue that is not only black for a while can indicate leukemia.
A permanent, strong yellow tongue coating can possibly be a disease in the liver-gall area.
With a brown discoloration, there may be problems in the digestive tract. A grayish tongue can indicate anemia and a blue-colored organ could be caused by a lung disease.
And what many have already experienced in themselves: A thick white coating often occurs with a cold or a gastrointestinal disorder.
Biochemical processes have not yet been clearly clarified
"The exact biochemical processes involved in tongue coloring in the body have not yet been scientifically clarified," explained alternative practitioner René Gräber from Preetz in Schleswig-Holstein in a recent report by the dpa news agency.
According to Graves, the acid balance in the body could play a role. If, for example, the yellow-brown bile, which is important for fat digestion, gets out of balance due to illness, then the acid balance is also mixed up.
"This could be an explanation for a yellow coating on the tongue, which is connected to the bile," said the naturopath.
According to a study published in 2015 in the journal “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (eCAM), changes in the build-up and breakdown of amino acids could contribute to the appearance of a brownish tongue coating in gastritis.
One-sided coating or swelling
But there are not only changes in color. For example, the tongue can be shiny and smooth on the surface, then there is talk of a “lacquer tongue”.
"This occurs when there are deficiencies in vitamins or minerals," said Prof. Andreas Filippi, specialist dentist for oral surgery at the University Center for Dentistry in Basel in the dpa report.
A burning sensation or inflammation of the tongue can also indicate a vitamin deficiency.
If the tongue is permanently colored red (“raspberry” or “strawberry tongue”), then there is probably a scarlet fever.
Sometimes there is also a one-sided coating on only one tongue half. This can be related to a nerve disorder or otitis media.
A swollen, brown-colored tongue may indicate kidney weakness. And the so-called "map tongue" - an uneven coating on which tooth prints can be seen - indicates, according to the graves, disorders in the digestive tract.
Harmless food discoloration
A covering that is visible for a short time is usually no cause for concern. For example, blueberries can turn the tongue blue without any illness behind it.
A coating on the tongue can, but does not necessarily have to indicate a disease. A daily tongue check in front of the mirror can provide information about possible diseases.
In the dpa report, Prof. Dirk Eßer, chief physician of the department of ear, nose and throat medicine at Helios Klinikum Erfurt, recommends that you regularly monitor the appearance of the tongue, ideally in daylight and ideally immediately after getting up.
Because then the tongue is not yet discolored by food or drinks. If anything noticeable is noticed, it should best be discussed with the family doctor first.
Diseases of the tongue
In addition to the indications of diseases, there are also diseases that directly affect the tongue. These include tumor diseases, aphthae and fibromas. "At first, tumors often show up in the form of 'sores' or ulcers," explained Dr. Walter.
“Tactile hardening of the tongue with an intact surface can also indicate tumors.” Aphthae, in turn, are circular or oval milky-yellowish structures that trigger inflammation of the surrounding mucous membrane.
Although they are very painful, they usually disappear on their own after a few days. Fibromas, i.e. small, benign nodules of the mucous membrane, are usually found on the midline of the tongue. These connective tissue swellings require clarification by an ENT doctor. (ad)