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Yellow Tongue Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, & Remedies

What does the yellow coating, stuff, film on the tongue mean? Infections, vitamin deficiency, drugs, and allergies can produce such a symptom. Get an insight into causes, symptoms, remedies and what to do before treatment. In our discussion, we have included a few pictures.


yellow coating on tongue picture
yellow coating on tongue picture

Some symptoms can be experienced by the patient themselves particularly in the morning or after waking up. Other signs may be revealed during the diagnosis of symptoms associated with yellow coating tongue.

Studying the symptoms is crucial when it comes to finding out the causes of this problems and the most appropriate treatment to use. Common symptoms include the following.

  • Bad breath or (bad smell from mouth),
  • Bad taste in mouth
  • Dryness in mouth,
  • A sore throat accompanied by fever,
  • Presence of red bumps or spots. They may also occur in throat and tonsils.
  • Burning sensation in the mouth.
    yellow tongue with red bumps on back of tongue
    A case with a redness at the back
    yellowing tongue means a vitamin deficiency
    Does it mea a vitamin deficiency

Other parts of the mouth may also be affected by these symptoms are the gums and inside cheeks or inner lips.

There may also develop (die-off) symptoms on other body parts such as joints which, in essence, will further give your doctor important information on symptoms and about your health.

Candida symptom and sore throat

Most of these symptoms are also observed in young children and breastfeeding babies. One of the common symptoms is white coating in mouth (on mouth roof, tongue, gums and inner cheeks, etc.) As we shall see later, a sore throat is symptomatic of strep throat infection but can also signify other oral conditions.


“An overgrowth of bacteria or yeast in the digestive system will often show up as a thick tongue coat.” [bodyecology.com], which could be white, yellow, green, or brown. Learn more about the possible causes or why it happens.

Regular or overuse of certain oral drugs

If you have recently developed this coating in form of film or thin pale yellow things it is time to keenly check on the drugs you have been taking. A majority of the medical cases involving intake of oral drugs reveal that drug group known as antibiotics constitute a large portion of this problem.

The chemical composition of drugs is one of the ways through which drugs influence discoloration on the tongue. An example is a class of drugs known as antidiarrheal such as Pepto-Bismol have bismuth subsalicylate (as an active chemical ingredient). When this drug mixes with saliva, bismuth sulfide is formed. This is a chemical component responsible for this discoloration.

More often, doctors have attributed this to the fact that some patients freely acquire them (drugs) over the counter and begin using them without thinking about dosage and the period they should take them.

Black hairy tongue

early signs of hairy tongue
early signs of hairy tongue

Early signs of this problem are most commonly recognized by brown, green, orange, green-yellow or yellowish tongue region (especially the back). Causes of these conditions are contributed by poor oral hygiene, tobacco smoking and wrong use of certain medications among other reasons.

People with poor oral hygiene habits have more bacterial growth. It is important to note that some bacteria have the ability to produce colored pigments that remain trapped within the papillae.

Moreover, individuals who have natural long papillae are more likely to show symptoms of a black hairy tongue including metallic taste in mouth, bad breath, and burning sensation.

Post nasal drainage or drip

A normal production of mucus occurs frequently “glands in the lining of your, nose, throat, airways, stomach, and intestinal tract,” [webmd.com] that help prevent infections. When the mucus is produced in excess it is channeled down the back of the nose to the throat (postnasal drainage) leading to accumulation. Some are released through the nostrils.

The function of the mucous is mainly to trap infection-causing germs such as bacteria. However, when the bacteria multiply, an increased microbial activity sometimes may result in a thick white or yellow coating particularly the back.

Sinusitis, cold infection, allergies and rhinitis are some of the common causes of post-natal drainage. The problem could also occur when the mucus is not cleared away effectively hence causing accumulation at the back of the throat. In this case, the yellowish or white appearance of the tongue is thought to be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease and due to old age.

Effects of dehydration

Going on with why the color changes, dehydration could also be another possible cause. Clinical tests and results have shown that if your tongue turns yellow, you could be moderately dehydrated. There are numerous common signs and symptoms of being dehydrated namely decreased urination, dark urine, thirst feeling, dry mouth mucosa and sudden loss of weight.

Irritation or inflammation

There are several things or medical activities that will cause irritation of your tongue. They include taking foods, which are too spicy, piercing, tooth extraction and tonsillectomy (surgical removal of infected or damaged tonsils).

If irritation becomes severe it will necessitate the use of mouthwashes to help fight bacteria while promoting healing. For instance, “a yellow film on the surface of the tongue 2-3 days after piercing your tongue.” [skin-artists.com] is thought to be common.


Another probable cause is jaundice although it is rarely symptomatic of the yellow stuff. People with liver problems and gallbladder have signs like yellow skin and yellow patches on eye whites.

Other causes coating or stuff

They include:

  • Poor gut function,
  • Smoking tobacco,
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease,
  • Infections like strep throat and mononucleosis,
  • Jaundice – though rare as a symptom.
  • Vitamin deficiency.

Soreness and oral cancer

Tongue sores can be a source of oral discomforts but are not really a cause for worry since they are typically non-cancerous. According to MD Health, these sores are typically white or yellow, though they may turn gray as they are they are healing.

One of the common causes of these sores includes canker cores. There is no exact known cause but they mostly heal on their own without treatments. Some people who have chronic sores in the mouth should see an oral dentist in order to determine an underlying cause.

What about oral cancer?

Unlike typical sore or mouth sores, oral cancer is characterized by sores which are severe and do not fade away on their own i.e. they become persistent. These sores may also appear to become hard and grow quickly. This is a sign that you are starting to develop oral cancer. Other symptoms of oral cancer include a severe sore throat, hoarseness in voice, difficulty in swallowing and a slight fever.

Patients are advised to seek medical tests or go for a diagnosis of oral cancer.

Is it an STD symptom

Can this color be an indication or symptom of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? There are a number of human STDs and one of them is HIV. There could be a relation between the symptoms of HIV and presence of yellow stuff or yellowing of tongue. Even though, research is revealing that such a connection is a rare occurrence in people living with HIV and AIDS.

The truth about STDs like HIV is that these infections normally reduces the ability of body to resist other human infections which are considered to be more infectious or common. For instance, with a compromised immunity especially your gut can easily make your oral cavity prone to infections e.g. oral herpes, thrush, etc.

Coating with red spots?

Do you have yellow tongue coating and red spots or bumps especially on the back? You may not be the only one. Several patients have curiously and freakishly asked this question. For sure that is an indication that it is a health concern. Here is a post from one of the health communities (Med Help).

About 3 weeks ago I had Bronchitis. I was prescribed Penicillin for 5 days.  After taking the medication I was still ill so went back to the Dr. who prescribed a strong antibiotic (1/day for 6 days) The bronchitis cleared up but I still have a post-nasal drip and mucous in throat.  I’m constantly having to “clear my throat”. Last night my tongue was sore and when I looked in the mirror I was horrified to see a thick yellow coating and red spots.

This reveals the importance of going for diagnosis in order to get a more evaluative test to determine what is behind the yellowing. Even so, the causes we have discussed so far could be responsible.

Now, if you notice appearance of red spots or bumps toward the dorsal of your tongue they could be common lie bumps. These tongue spots are small and may be white in colour in some instances. Secondly, young children and people who have a strep throat would also get the red spots on the back of tongue.

Besides the coating, anyone could experience additional symptoms such as fever, pain, and sores. If you get persistent red sores or spots on tongue see your doctor urgently.

Treatments and cures

Many cases could not require treatment. On one hand for instance, if the condition causing this has temporary effects then such a problem can resolve on its own. On the other hand, treatments should be administered in case of oral infections that cause or lead to formation yellow coating on tongue.

The following are some of the cure methods to consider:

Prescription antibiotics

Antibiotics is one of the treatments used in controlling growth of bacteria in mouth. For it to work more effectively, a differential diagnosis is compulsory. If the cause of yellow tongue is identified, your doctor will prescribe medications in form of drugs to fight infections and get cured.

Go for diagnosis and cure of underlying cause

Another sure way to eliminate this problem is by finding the cause and then getting the correct form of treatment. As we saw earlier, some tongue ulcer may develop into cancer. It follows, therefore, to constantly be vigilant of such conditions by either visiting the doctor for diagnosis or going for treatment to control cancerous cells from growing.

Children, as well as adults who have scarlet fever, strep throat and oral thrush symptoms, should get diagnosed before they are given treatments.

Home remedies

Below are some simple do-it-yourself remedies for mild symptoms produced by this oral problem.

Use of less irritating mouthwashes

Certain alcohol-free mouthwashes are recommended by dentists as they are gentle to the oral mucosa. In addition, they act against drying effect in the mouth which only lead to increases in bacterial growth hence a white or yellow coating on the tongue surface.

Examples are Listerine’s Answer, Oral-B Sensitive and Colgate Total Advanced.

Gargle with dilute hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has an antiseptic property to help kill and reduce bacteria in the mouth. Before gargling, you need to add five volumes of water to 1 volume of hydrogen peroxide. Always spit out afterward. Do not use hydrogen peroxide too often to clean your mouth.

Take more fluids

To help combat overall dehydration it is healthy to drink more water and fluids to keep your body well hydrated and enable body organs such as the liver easier work to remove toxins.

These fluids exclude beverages such as tea, coffee or wine.

Other home remedies

If you get irritation due to any of the causes which we have looked at applying the following natural remedies will deal with the problem. A relevant example is a post-nasal drainage.

  1. Warm salt solution for gaggling,
  2. Steam inhalation,
  3. Nasal irrigation using salt and baking powder solution,
  4. Chewing small pieces of garlic daily,
  5. Drinking ginger solution. Optionally, take a mixture of half-teaspoon cayenne pepper and honey at least twice a day until the symptoms go down.

Removal of these coatings

If the coating (white or yellow) is left for several days invites more bacteria and fungi to grow. An appropriate means to remove the coating should be applied with the help of scrapper or toothbrush.

If bleeding occurs and there is an extreme pain after removing or scrapping, you should see your doctor immediately.

Finally, if you think that mouthwashes is what leads to tongue yellowing, stop using them or get right advice from an oral dentist. Smokers and tobacco chewers should consider quitting due to the risk of developing oral cancer. The bottom line is ensuring that you keep up your oral health by regularly cleaning your mouth.

Our Reference and Quoted Sources
  1. Yellow Tongue Causes and Treatment -Posted on Jan 28, 2016.
  2. Yellow Tongue Causes, Treatment, and Home Remedies, Dr. Victor Machione,  May 20, 2016.
  3. Dehydration Symptoms and Signs, Jan Modric, .
  4. Tongue Ulcer
  5. Yellow Tongue Causes and Treatment, Jon Yaneff, CNP, March 7, 2016.

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