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What your tongue can tell you about your health

DR BOIMA
HEALTH ISSUES

It is not for nothing that Doctors around the world all ask their patients to open up their mouth and say "ahhh". A close look at your tongue (and everything else inside your mouth) can provide telltale signs of what's going on with the overall state of your health. The colour, surface, texture and moisture of your tongue can reveal a lot about what is going on in your body.

Colour

Pale – Your tongue has a rich supply of blood vessels giving it a normal pinkish color. If the tongue or mucous membranes that line the mouth appear pale (or like they lack color) this could mean that your blood is low in hemoglobin (anemia). Anemia or ‘low blood’ as popularly known will result in one having symptoms of dizziness, tiredness, headaches and shortness of breath especially when exerting.

A blood test known as full blood count would often be taken to establish the level of hemoglobin and the management will be tailored around the severity of the anemia. Often you would be advised to eat a well-balanced diet containing plenty of iron found in lean meat, especially liver, put on iron supplements or even given blood transfusions.

Bright red – A strawberry or raspberry-coloured tongue can be one of the first symptoms of scarlet fever, which is a bacterial condition that occurs in some people who have throat infection (strep throat). This is usually associated with a really high fever and to be treated with antibiotics.  A very red and shiny tongue can also indicate lack of certain nutrients like iron, folate and Vit B12.

Blue – A blue tongue may indicate lack of oxygen in the blood. Chronic lung/airway disease like asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema may cut down the efficiency of the airways in bringing oxygen to the bloodstream. If your tongue continues to be blue seek medical advice.

Brown – A spot on your tongue that has turned brown or otherwise darkly discolored could possibly be a form of cancer called melanoma. Any discoloration on your tongue that is not normally there should prompt a hospital visit.
Surface

White coating – A thin coating on the tongue is healthy and normal. A heavy white coating (cottage-cheese like) indicates candidiasis or oral thrush. This could be caused by an over-use of chemical mouthwash, taking too many antibiotics or weakened immune system (HIV, Diabetes, and Cancers etc.). Anti-fungals in the form of gel or tablets may be prescribed to ease this.

Bumps – towards the back of the tongue there are taste buds that are bumpier and larger than the ones that are in the front, and these are normal. However if there are bumps on top of the tongue that are red, painful and abnormal it could be a viral or bacterial infection or an allergic reaction to food or medication. It can also be canker sores which many people develop on the tongue occasionally due to stress. All these tongue bumps can go away on their own or be treated with painkillers, anti-virals and antibiotics to speed healing.

Lump – A lump or ulcer on your tongue that doesn’t go away within two weeks could be an indication of oral cancer.  Many oral cancers don’t hurt in the early stages, so don’t assume a lack of pain means nothing is wrong. Any swelling or thickening of the tongue should get checked by the doctor. Oral cancer is very common in smokers.

Map-like patches – if you spot patchy lesions on the tongue that seem to change location from day to day, it may be a harmless but sometimes uncomfortable condition called geographic tongue. Vit B deficiencies are thought to be responsible for this surface change but also irritation due to alcohol and foods can also contribute.

Texture

Dryness – Thanks to a constant flow of saliva, the tongue is constantly being kept moist and cleaned which discourages harmful bacteria forming in the mouth area. If the tongue is persistently dry, it is often due to swelling of the salivary (where saliva is produced). This is often caused by stress. Regulate stress by relaxation routines such as breathing or yoga. Not taking enough fluids and dehydration can also lead to a very dry tongue that easily sticks to the roof of the mouth.

For questions and comments please email agboima@yahoo.com




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