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Learn about your red tongue, including causes and common questions. Or get a personalized analysis of your red tongue from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Top 10 Red Tongue Causes

  1. 1.Cold Sore

    Cold sores (also called oral herpes or fever blisters), are viral infections of the mouth caused by the herpes virus type 1. You were probably infected very early in life as a child when an adult kissed you. The virus stays asleep (dormant) and causes infections every now and then after exposure to lots of sun or emotional/physical stress. It is contagious when an outbreak is happening, but treatment is limited unless you are immunocompromised.

    You can safely stay home or try some minor treatments. As a viral infection, it will go away on its own without antibiotics. Balm mint cream (1%) or topical rhubarb-sage cream may improve symptoms, but it's not standard treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    mouth lesions, pain on the outside of the lips, itchy mouth, burning pain on the outside of the lips, lip numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with cold sore:
    mouth lesions
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is the compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that run through the upper chest. It can occur as a result of trauma, surgery, growths in the body, or just randomly.

    You should seek medical care soon to determine whether the compression is of the nerve or the blood vessels. You may need imaging using x-rays, CTs of the blood streams, or MRIs. Treatment depends on the extent of the injury, but usually includes physical therapy. Surgical treatment may be required if a blood vessel is compressed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, pain in one shoulder blade, arm numbness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Normal Occurrence of Headache

    Headaches are extremely common & a primary reason people miss work or school. In many cases, the cause for headache is unknown.

    Your headache looks like a normal variation & can be treated at home with an over-the-counter pain reliever.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, mild headache, muscle tension, new headache
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with normal occurrence of headache:
    headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, vomiting, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, jaw pain, being severely ill, fever, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Raynaud Phenomenon

    Primary Raynaud phenomenon is a disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes, which causes the blood vessels to narrow when feeling cold or stressed. When this happens, blood can't get to the surface of the skin and the affected areas turn white and blue.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own with conservative measures, such as avoiding cold and use of protective measures and/or quitting smoking. If this is ineffective or you have other symptoms in addition to this, contact your primary care physician when convenient.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, cold toe, cold fingers, spontaneous toe pain, turning blue or purple from coldness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Chronically Dry Eyes

    Dry eye syndrome (medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca), occurs when there is a problem with the thin film of tears that keeps the eye moist and lubriated. This is a condition that can affect people of all ages, but becomes more common as one gets older. The causes include aging, some medications, increased evaporation of tears (due to low humidity in the air, low blink frequency, wearing contact lenses, or windy conditions), and underlying illness in rare cases.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own with artificial tears, which come as eye drops and gels, and are usually great at relieving symptoms. You can purchase these at a pharmacy. You might want to consider consulting your primary care physician (PCP) if over-the-counter remedies don't help.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dry eyes, dry mouth, feeling of something in the eye, eye pain, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with chronically dry eyes:
    dry eyes
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

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  6. 6.Aseptic Meningitis

    Aseptic meningitis is a condition in which the layers lining the brain (the meninges) become inflamed and painful but there is no bacterial infection involved. It can be caused by virusses, fungi or medication.

    You should go to the ER as soon as possible in order to take a sample of the fluid bathing the nervous system to characterize the type of infection it is. A non-bacterial meningitis typically has no need for antibiotics.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, nausea, muscle aches, fever, chills
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Strep Throat Requiring Throat Swab

    Strep throat is a bacterial throat infection that can make the throat feel sore and scratchy. Only a small portion of sore throats are the result of strep throat. And, if you do not show enough signs of a true strep throat, testing may be needed before treatment is begun.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours, where a diagnosis can be made via a "rapid antigen test" (it's a throat swab). Treatment with simple antibiotics would be given only if the test is positive. It is important to get treatment, however, because of the possibility of getting a disease called "rheumatic fever" after the strep throat infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, sore throat, fever, rash
    Symptoms that always occur with strep throat requiring throat swab:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with strep throat requiring throat swab:
    general weakness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Iron Deficiency Anemia

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who will take a blood test to confirm diagnosis. Treatment involves iron supplementation (pills) or transfusion in really extreme cases (not likely).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    You should visit your primary care physician if you get heartburn regularly. The doctor may be able to prescribe medications such as proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to reduce the acidity of the stomach. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy food may help reduce heartburn as well.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, cough with dry or watery sputum, pain below the ribs, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Viral (Rotavirus) Infection

    Rotavirus is a virus that causes an infection of the gut, known as gastroenteritis. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and fever. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    You can safely treat this condition at home. Make sure you drink plenty of water and fluids to replace what is lost with diarrhea. Eat as normally as possible. If symptoms of dehydration occur, or you are unable to keep down any liquids, seek care at your primary care physician or an urgent care.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, loss of appetite
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    hidden: gastroenteritis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection:
    constipation, tarry stool
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Red Tongue

  • Q.Do you have a rash?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our red tongue symptom checker.

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Red Tongue Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced red tongue have also experienced:

    • 14% Fever
    • 11% Tongue Pain
    • 7% Sore Throat
  • People who have experienced red tongue were most often matched with:

    • 11% Cold Sore
    • 5% Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
    • 5% Normal Occurrence of Headache
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Red Tongue Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having red tongue.

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