An ear, nose and throat doctor addresses the various causes of a yellow tongue.

If you’ve been noticing lately that your tongue is looking rather yellowish, perhaps you’ve been wondering if this might possibly mean cancer.

And if not, what on earth could possibly be causing this oddball symptom? Could it mean something serious?

There are various possible causes of a yellowish tongue.

But thank goodness, cancer is not a likely cause of this strange symptom.

The following situations are more likely to be the culprits.


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“If you drink a lot of coffee and/or smoke cigarettes, the healthy pink membranes of the tongue can be stained yellow,” says Dr. Stacey Silvers, MD, of Madison ENT & Facial Plastic Surgery in NYC, who is board certified in otolaryngology.

“Other things that can stain the tongue are tea and other tobacco products,” continues Dr. Silvers.

“Quit or reduce smoking and consider less coffee and tea intake.  You can gargle or brush your tongue after consumption of staining liquids.”


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“Acid reflux can change the pH in the oral cavity and lead to a yellow coating on the tongue; trial of reflux medication may be helpful,” says Dr. Silvers.


“Recent courses of antibiotics, poor ability to fight infection and steroid inhalers for asthma can lead to yeast infections,” says Dr. Silvers, “which can have a yellow/grey color to the tongue.  The tongue should be cultured by your doctor.”

A tongue with a yellow tinge is usually a temporary and harmless issue.

RARELY can this mean a problem with one’s liver or gallbladder.

An NYC expert in ear, nose and throat care, Dr. Silvers has been named among America’s Top Physicians and Surgeons in facial plastic surgery and otolaryngology numerous times since 2003.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
Top image: Shutterstock/donikz