Tongue Problem Basics
What Causes a Red or Strawberry Tongue?
There are multiple factors that can cause a normally pink tongue to turn red. In some instances, the tongue may even take on the appearance of a strawberry with enlarged, red taste buds dotting the surface. Possible causes include:
- Vitamin deficiencies. Deficiencies of folic acid and vitamin B-12 may cause your tongue to take on a reddish appearance.
- Geographic tongue. This condition, also known as benign migratory glossitis, is named for the map-like pattern of reddish spots that develop on the surface of the tongue. At times, these patches have a white border around them and their location on the tongue may shift over time. Though usually harmless, you should check with your dentist to investigate red patches that last longer than 2 weeks. Once the dentist has determined that the redness is a result of geographic tongue, no further treatment is necessary. If the condition makes your tongue sore or uncomfortable, you may be prescribed topical medications to ease discomfort.
- Scarlet fever. People who get this infection may develop a strawberry tongue. Be sure to contact a doctor immediately if you have a high fever and red tongue. Antibiotic treatment is necessary for scarlet fever.
- Kawasaki syndrome. This disease, usually seen in children under the age of 5, affects the blood vessels in the body and can cause strawberry tongue. During the severe phase of illness, children often run an extremely high fever and may also have redness and swelling in the hands and feet.
What Causes Black Hairy Tongue?
Though troubling in appearance, a black, hairy tongue is typically nothing serious. The small bumps on the surface of your tongue, called papillae, grow throughout your lifetime. In some people, the papillae become excessively long, rather than being worn down by daily activities. That makes them more likely to harbor bacteria. When these bacteria grow, they may look dark or black and the overgrown papillae appear hair-like.
This condition is not common and is most likely to occur in people who do not practice good dental hygiene. People who are on antibiotics or receiving chemotherapy and people with diabetes may be more likely to have a black hairy tongue.