WARNING: TURN BACK NOW
An alarming but ultimately harmless case of hairy tongue was reported in a 64-year-old Ohio man.
It’s when the little thread-like bumps on a person’s tongue grow longer and discolored, usually caused by poor oral hygiene or, in the Ohio patient’s case, smoking and the use of certain medications, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the preeminent medical facility on green hair on a tongue.
The man, who is a smoker, had finished a course of antibiotics to treat an infection of his gums three weeks earlier. After he reported the discoloration, physicians at first thought it was oral candidiasis, or thrush, and gave him an anti-fungal medication. But his tongue didn’t return to normal, according to the Journal.
Hairy tongue is “relatively common,” occurring in up to 13% of the population, and more commonly in older folks, according to the American Academy of Oral Medicine.
The tongue bumps — called filiform papillae — are normally 1 millimeter long and are supposed to be shed like skin before they grow, according to the Clinic. But if there’s nothing to abrade (or braid) them and don’t fall off, they can grow to about three-quarters of an inch, according to the Clinic. As they grow, they collect food, bacteria and dead skin cells, turning the tongue from pink to black, brown, white or green.