A strawberry tongue is not a disease. Rather, it is a symptom of something about the body that is not right. The color could mean there is something very wrong, or even life-threatening, in the body. Or, it could be a symptom of a problem that might be easily rectified. It is mainly young children who might experience a strawberry tongue. Adults can, but that is seldom the case. The reason is, children do not have immune systems that are fully developed, so they are more susceptible to some diseases. If an adult experiences a strawberry tongue, it is usually because he or she has a weakened immune system.
Scarlet Fever Is One Disease Having The Symptom
A strawberry tongue is one of the symptoms associated with scarlet fever. Scarlet fever was at one time a dread disease. It is not as common in this day and age as it once was, and is less of a problem due to the widespread availability of antibiotics. Thanks to better nutrition, people, especially young people, are less apt to come down with the disease. If they do, they are less apt to become seriously ill.
Listed below are a few facts about scarlet fever:
• It usually strikes children in the 4 to 8 age bracket.
• It is quite treatable and generally is not a serious illness.
• It is caused by the group A streptococci, or GAS, bacteria.
• It often looks worse than it is, and it responds quite well to rest, antibiotics, and fluids.
• The main danger posed by the disease is due to complications if the bacteria is allowed to spread to the bloodstream.
A Vitamin Deficiency Can Also Cause The Strawberry Color
A second common cause of strawberry tongue is vitamin deficiency, especially a vitamin B12 deficiency. A vitamin B12 deficiency, together with a deficiency in folic acid, will often make a person anemic. It’s not the deficiency itself which is the immediate danger, rather it is the fact that a person suffering from anemia can much more easily come down with various health problems. A strawberry tongue usually indicates the deficiency is quite severe, but the condition can easily be rectified by taking vitamin supplements over a period of 3 to 4 months.
Kawasaki Disease Is Another Possibility
A less well-known cause of strawberry tongue is Kawasaki disease. It is a childhood disease, although about 20% of those who come down with the disease are grownups. This disease is characterized by inflammation of the arteries, although what causes this inflammation is not well understood. Kawasaki disease responds well to medication if caught early. The danger it presents is that if it is not caught or treated early, there is a possibility of heart valve damage.
There are a number of other symptoms that can point to Kawasaki disease besides the color of the tongue. A person with the disease will usually have a fever. The fever will be over 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and may last for several day. It generally cannot be brought under control by conventional fever-reducing agents.
An enlarged tongue is another common symptom. As the tongue swells, it may be covered with a white film and have the strawberry color. The combination of a swollen tongue with a strawberry color and fever that lasts for more than 4 days is a fairly definite indication that Kawasaki disease is the cause. There may also be irritation present inside the mouth, on the lips, and in the throat. In some cases, the hands and soles of the feet may become red and irritated, and the eyes may appear reddened as well. Although Kawasaki disease can be life-threatening, only about 1% of those having the disease succumb to it.
Geographic Tongue – Harmless, But Irritating
Another disorder with this symptom bears the name geographic tongue. Here, white patches appear on the strawberry-colored tongue. The disorder is more irritating than serious and is usually short-lived. The cause of geographic tongue is not known, but it is believed by most medical experts that genetics can play a role as can a weakened immune system. Women seem more disposed than men to having this disorder.
Bacterial Toxic Shock Syndrome – Extremely Dangerous
The one truly dangerous disorder with which strawberry tongue is associated is the bacterial toxic shock syndrome. The staphylococcus bacteria is again the culprit. There are other symptoms of the syndrome, including high fever and headaches. Bacterial toxic shock syndrome is potentially fatal if not caught early on. In this case, a strawberry tongue can be a life-saver as it gives a definitive warning that something is wrong. Treatment for bacterial toxic shock syndrome primarily consists of an intravenous feeding of anti resistant antibiotics. In some cases, dialysis may be required to flush the bacteria from the bloodstream.
No matter what may lie behind this symptom, it is always recommended to bring it to the attention of your physician immediately. On the one hand, doing so could save a life. On the other hand, the doctor may only need to provide some vitamin supplements, or prescribe medication and bed rest.