There certainly is a connection between GERD and “hairy” tongue; this is a real condition that is not imagined.

“Hairy tongue is used to describe a condition when there is a rapid turnover of the surface layer of cells on the tongue that gives the appearance of hair or fur on the tongue,” explains Hugh Mai, MD, Director of Endoscopic Ultrasonography and Bariatric Endoscopy, Gastroenterology Division, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and LifeBridge Health.

Furry or Hairy Tongue Not Related to LPR

“Hairy tongue is not frequently seen with supra-esophageal GERD, the acid reflux that affects breathing and the voice,” continues Dr. Mai.

“Supra” refers to location above; in this case, the vocal cords.

“However it [hairy tongue] can be explained when there is excessive regurgitation of acid and bile in the mouth and on the tongue.

“It most often happens during sleep when the lower esophageal sphincter is incompetent…or permits stomach acid to splash back up into the esophagus.”

Looking in the mirror soon after getting out of bed and seeing “fur” on your tongue can be a very unnerving experience.

But the situation looks worse than it actually is.

Dr. Mai adds, “As I mentioned earlier, this can cause a rapid cell turnover, and the unpleasant effect is a thick coat on the tongue which often leads to yeast overgrowth and an altered sense of taste.”

So though your tongue may feel and look hairy or furry from GERD, there are no hairs sprouting on its surface.

Preventing Acid Reflux Episodes Overnight

  • Do not eat within three hours of bedtime, or at least, limit any food to something like a peach, apple, cup of yogurt or a small salad.
  • Sleep with your torso (not just head) propped up at about a 20 to 30 degree angle. This can be done with a wedge pillow or by propping the head end of the bed up.

Dr. Mai is well-versed in the endoscopic treatment of GERD. LifeBridge Health provides the Baltimore community and beyond with a wide array of choices in health care services.
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.  

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Top image credit: Hermann Pool