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The color and condition of the tongue has been used to diagnose illness since ancient times, in both Eastern and Western medicine.
Any swelling can be serious, so see a doctor right away. Further swelling can block your throat. It can be caused by an infection within the tongue, an abscess, or even cancer.
Types of Diagnoses
Western medicine uses the tongue as an immediate health indicator. The color and texture of the tongue can indicate everything from mild infection to simple side-effects of medication, or lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet. In addition to modern Western methods, there are others, including Indian and Chinese medical traditions, that uses the color of the tongue to help diagnose various health conditions..
Ayurveda, the native medical system of India, was developed from about 2000 – 600 BC. The emphasis is the examination of the overall person, not just a group of symptoms.
• It defines health as a balance between the elements that make up human life: air and ether, fire and water, water and earth (vata, pitta and kapha). Disruption in the body of the relationships between these will cause disease. The disruptions can be caused by internal or external problems, genetic predisposition, or both. It means that the elements cannot work in harmony with each other. Also, stress is recognized as an important factor in poor health, and yoga and other forms of meditation are part of some cures.
• Diagnosis in the Ayurvedic tradition is chiefly by observation and listening to the patient’s heart, lungs and digestive tract. The tongue is also important in this process. The analysis of color, texture and size is used to determine the problems with internal organs.
• Prevention is a major factor, and hygiene is a starting point.
• Cures involve vegetable-derived drugs, used both externally and internally. Minerals, in small amounts, are also used, including arsenic, gold, sulfur, and others.
When cancer occurs it is usually as bumps under the surface, although any bump under the surface does not mean it is cancerous. Additionally, many growths are in fact benign tumors, so you must consult a physician about any abnormalities in your mouth.
Tongue cancer is usually in the form of a tumor, grey/white/pink in appearance, and on the side of the tongue. It is sensitive and bleeds easily when disturbed. It is often preceded by Leukoplakia and Erythroplakia (see below). Other symptoms are earache, bleeding in areas of the mouth including teeth, a sore or wound that won’t heal, and pain when swallowing. These symptoms alone do not signify cancer, and many are associated with the often-easily treated conditions below.
How Tongue Colors Used in Health Diagnosis
White or whitish tinge can mean:
• Side effect of antibiotics
• Leukoplakia, plaques that form on mucus membranes and the tongue, and are usually caused by smoking or other use of tobacco products
• Alcohol consumption
• When the taste buds are raised and look like miniature cauliflowers, they can be warts contracted by oral sex, and must be seen by a doctor.
The taste buds become discolored and painful. This can be:
• Geographic Tongue, a condition possibly linked to diet but also apparently genetic. It is also linked to hormonal changes, and occurs more frequently in women, and especially during pregnancy. Some patients report that the symptoms are helped by zinc and vitamin B.
• Others, such as Leukoplakia (see above).
• Erythroplakia, which makes red smooth patches. This must be seen by a doctor.
Bright red, also called Strawberry Tongue when the taste buds are swollen:
• Scarlet fever
• Toxic shock syndrome from a bacterial infection, which is very serious and must be treated immediately
• Kawasaki disease, which affects the middle-sized arteries, and also must be treated right away
• Canker sores, which can cause one side or part of the tongue to redden. They are usually caused by a lack in the diet of folic acid, zinc, and vitamins B-6 and B-12.
Smooth Red, without buds, also called Bald tongue:
• This is usually caused by anemia (lack of oxygen to tissues). You should see a doctor.
Red and White:
• Lingual papillitis, also called ‘lie bumps,’ caused by a fungal infection, possibly related to stress and other changes in body chemistry
• Bacteria build-up, which can also catch food debris. Remove by brushing your tongue when you brush your teeth
Brown or Black:
• This can be ‘hairy tongue,’ which is due to stained taste buds holding bacteria. The bacteria, which are medically harmless, can be the result of frequent tobacco use, antibiotics, failure to brush teeth, and others.
Blue or Brown spots:
• Bruises from an injury or from biting your tongue during sleep; or a benign group of blood vessels, more than usual, in that particular spot.
Violet:• Streaks or areas of different texture in a finger-like spread can be Lichen Planus, a skin rash, which needs to be treated by a doctor.