If you have ever sucked on a piece of orange candy and looked at your tongue afterward, you already know that sometimes food can turn the tongue orange.
But what about when it happens and there is no orange candy – or any orange foods – in sight?
This can feel worrisome, to say the least. Why is it happening, what is causing it and most importantly, what can you do to make it stop?
Interestingly, as Wales Online reports, the human tongue can be a remarkably accurate messenger to tell you when there is something amiss in your body system.(1)
It may something minor or something major, but if there is an imbalance or a medical issue brewing, in many cases, watching your tongue can act like an early warning system to alert you.
In this article, learn the different possible causes for an orange tongue, reasons why an orange discoloration can occur, how an orange tongue is diagnosed and treated and if you can prevent orange tongue discoloration from recurring.
Causes of an Orange Tongue
When the word “orange” is used for medical purposes, it can actually mean any color in the orange spectrum, which can actually range from a very light orange or even “burnt yellow” all the way to a brownish or maroon-orange shade.
In fact, there are a number of possible causes that could explain why your tongue has suddenly started to look orange in color.
According to Heal Cure, here are some of the best-known possible causes for why this could happen:(2)
According to Healthline, as many as 60 percent of all people will struggle with some level of acid reflux at some point in their lives.(3)
The full name for acid reflux is GERD (gastroesophageal reflux) and sometimes it is also called simply “heartburn.”
According to Med Health Daily, with acid reflux, the acids from the stomach and the digestive tract come back up into the oral cavity.(4) This is what causes the tongue to look orange.
Overgrowth of yeast
Yeast overgrowth is best known as Candida, but actually there are several forms of yeast that can cause your tongue to turn orange. According to U.S. News Wellness report, up to three-quarters of all women will contract a vaginal yeast infection during their lifetime.(5)
Yeast overgrowth can also affect men and children. Babies, in particular, tend to suffer orally from yeast overgrowth (it is called thrush).
Use of antibiotics
Some antibiotics are known to cause imbalances with yeast, especially in the mouth tissues. When you are taking antibiotics that have this side effect, you may see your tongue turning orange.
Overgrowth of bacteria or fungi
Certain strains of bacteria and fungi can turn the tongue and/or mouth tissues orange when they begin to growth inside the mouth.
One example is the Ramichloridium schulzeri (“Golden tongue” syndrome). If you are struggling with a fungus infection that has not yet been diagnosed, you may see orange spots appear on your tongue as well.
While it may be more difficult to diagnose, if you are working or living in a space that has been infested with mold or mildew spores, this can also affect your body. One of the first signs that mold is affecting you can be when the tongue turns orange.
For some people, allergic reactions to some pollen, molds or chemicals can cause an orange tinge to the tongue. For others, food allergies can cause the tongue to turn orange.
According to WebMD, if your body becomes deficient in certain vitamins (the B vitamins and folate are good examples) it can turn the tongue orange.(6)
Eating too much of certain foods.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences reports that eating too much of certain foods can cause your skin and also your mouth or tongue to turn orange.(7)
One of the main culprits here, of course, is carrots. It is so common that there is a name for it – carotenemia.
Another slightly less well known food that can turn your skin and tongue yellowish-orange is tomatoes. This is called lycopenemia.
In fact, any food that is too high in the anti-oxidant pigment beta-carotene can cause yellowing or an orange tinge to the skin and mouth tissues.
Early onset of black hairy tongue
Emedicine health states that a condition called black hairy tongue, which is often caused by tobacco use over an extended period of time, can begin with the tongue changing to a different hue depending on the person’s individual habits.(8)
Underlying health conditions
Finally, while an orange tongue is rarely considered a direct symptom of more serious health conditions such as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), HIV/AIDS, diabetes or cancer, these types of serious illnesses can reduce the immune system’s ability to fight off infection.
According to Health Know Facts, sometimes when the immune system is under functioning due to a serious illness, the tongue can turn orange when bacteria, allergens, mold or mildew, fungi or viral agents invade the body.(9)
When your tongue turns orange, this is rarely going to be your only symptom. The exception may be if you have eaten too much of a certain type of food (such as carrots or tomatoes) or have consumed something colored orange.
Otherwise, you will likely have additional symptoms that crop up. These symptoms can be very valuable and useful to help you and your doctor figure out what is causing your orange tongue discoloration.
Here, it can be helpful to begin a symptoms log and do this for a week or so. This can help you begin to notice patterns, such as how you feel after eating certain foods, going to certain places or doing certain things.
For example, if you notice your tongue always looks more orange after you come home from work and you also feel like you have allergies, this may be a signal that there is mold in your workplace that you are breathing in.
By keeping a symptoms log for several days, you can notice how you feel and also note down any changes in your tongue color during the day. By bringing this log to your doctor, you can begin to match up the symptoms you have with possible causes for your orange tongue, along with any exams and testing your doctor may order to get the most accurate diagnosis.
It can also be helpful to learn about symptoms that are commonly reported to co-occur with an orange tongue. This way, you won’t be tempted to rule out symptoms that you assume are not associated with your orange tongue.
This is a list of common co-occurring symptoms that often show up when your tongue turns orange:
» Orange saliva.
» Spots on the tongue.
» Coating on the tongue.
» Tongue feels dry.
» Mouth itching, burning or sore.
» Unpleasant taste in mouth (like bitter, smoky, ashy, metallic).
» Bad breath.
» Allergy or cold symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, coughing/sneezing, headache, fever or chills.
» Stomach upset.
» Fatigue or weakness.
» Vaginal itching, burning, pain on urination, discharge.
» Mouth sores.
There can be additional symptoms as well, especially if there is a more serious underlying condition present.
How are tongue problems diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing why your tongue has suddenly turned orange is to make an appointment with your doctor. Here is where your symptoms log can come in handy.
Your doctor can review your recent history and may spot patterns or symptoms that are important for diagnosis.
The appointment will begin with your doctor taking a personal and then a family medical history. Here, the goal is to identify any underlying health conditions that you have or that your close family has that may contribute to your tongue discoloration.
The doctor will also want a list of the supplements, vitamins, herbs and/or medications you are taking or have recently taken to see if any of these cause tongue discoloration.
It can be helpful to prepare this list in advance.
Your doctor will also do a complete physical exam, paying special attention to listening to your breathing, examining your lymph nodes for signs of swelling and looking in your eyes and ears as well as your nose and throat for signs of respiratory distress.
The most common initial test that doctors order is a blood test:
» CBC (complete blood count) and blood chemistry profile. This complete blood test can look for vitamin and mineral imbalances, disease markers and other indicators that something is amiss in your body.
From here, your doctor will be able to order more tests that relate to directly to your specific symptoms (aside from the orange tongue itself).
For example, if you have co-occurring gastrointestinal symptoms, you may get tested for acid reflux. According to WebMD, there are three main tests used to diagnose GERD: manometry, esophageal pH monitoring and endoscopy.(10)
Conversely, if your co-occurring symptoms are respiratory and mold exposure is suspected, Mayo Clinic states that these tests may be done: skin prick test and radioallergosorbent blood test.(11)
If your symptoms point to a viral or bacterial infection or a yeast overgrowth, there are swab and blood tests that can be done to test for a range of different illnesses.
And if your doctor suspects that your orange tongue may be linked to the recent use of medications or antibiotics or a dietary imbalance, obtaining a correct diagnosis may involve simply waiting until the course of medication has completed or changing your diet to see if that resolves the orange color on your tongue.
Treating an orange tongue will depend on the diagnosis your doctor gives you.
Here is a list of possible treatment options that may be prescribed based on your symptoms and individual diagnosis:
» A change in dietary or lifestyle habits, such as adding or removing certain foods, limiting alcohol or tobacco use, drinking more water or other similar changes.
» Adding a vitamin or mineral supplement to your daily health routine.
» Taking medications to control allergy symptoms, such as nasal sprays, allergy pills or shots.
» Taking medications to clear up an underlying overgrowth of yeast or bacteria or a fungal issue.
» Taking medications to prevent future occurrences of acid reflux or heartburn.
» Taking probiotics or eating yogurt (or both) to restore a healthy balance of intestinal flora and fauna following antibiotics use.
» Receiving appropriate treatment for a more serious underlying disease or illness (i.e. HIV/AIDS, STDs, cancer, diabetes, et al).
Can Orange Tongue Be Prevented?
Due to the variety of reasons why the human tongue can turn orange in color, it is not currently possible to completely prevent this from occurring.
However, use of probiotics, either by eating yogurt or drinking kefir or by taking probiotic pills can reduce the likelihood that yeast overgrowth or bacteria/fungal/mold exposure will turn your tongue orange.
If your tongue has turned orange and you are struggling to figure out why this is happening and how to stop it, help is available.
The most important thing is to not wait to seek help. Instead, you should pay careful attention to your symptoms and seek out the advice of a medical professional right away to ease your mind and help your body heal.
Here is what to do to resolve your orange tongue issues:
» Keep a symptoms log for several days in a row.
» Make an appointment with your medical doctor.
» Bring in your symptoms log and list of current medications, supplements and vitamins.
» Have your physical exam.
» Have any tests done that your doctor orders.
» Get your diagnosis and follow your doctor’s treatment instructions until your orange tongue issues resolve.
» Continue with any long term maintenance recommendations, such as dietary or lifestyle changes or use of probiotics, to prevent your orange tongue from recurring.