Black hairy tongue: a bizarre condition caused by bacteria

A woman's tongue turned black and hairy after she was hurt in a car crash

A woman discovered to her horror that her tongue had turned black and hairy, reported the New England Journal of Medicine.

The 55-year-old woman had been admitted to the hospital after a motor vehicle accident in which both of her legs had been crushed.

Doctors had administered intravenous meropenem and oral minocycline - a tetracycline antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body - to combat a polymicrobial wound infection.

Within a week her tongue turned black and "furry" and she reported feeling nauseous and a bad taste in her mouth.

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

"As scary as this looks, the good part is that it's actually reversible."

Dr. Yasir Hamad, CNN, 10th of September.

Multiple factors may cause black hairy tongue

Although visually unpleasant, black hairy tongue is a benign condition. The brownish-black discoloration is due to the alteration of some of the filiform papillae on the surface of the tongue.

These papillae become elongated, giving the appearance of "hair" on the tongue. According to the woman's doctor, Dr. Yasir Hamad, several factors can cause the condition.

These include poor oral hygiene, the use of tobacco or irritating mouthwashes, and the administration of antibiotics, particularly tetracyclines.

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It looks scary but it's harmless

The frightening condition is harmless, explained Dr. Hamaand is usually reversible,

In his patient's case, the use of minocycline was discontinued, and an alternate antibiotic was administered.

A change in treatment reversed the condition

The patient stopped the minocycline treatment, and within four weeks her tongue was back to normal.

She was advised to practice good oral hygiene and to use mild mouthwashes.

Sharing the news with the medical world

It was Hamad, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who Hamad published the case in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A rare and unusual condition

Hamal explained that in 10 years of practice, it was the first case of black hairy tongue he had ever seen.

According to Hamad, looking into a patient's mouth can be an excellent aid to diagnosis.

What people should look for on their tongues

Patients are advised not to disregard alterations to their mouths or tongues such as sores, swelling, changes in taste, color or texture.

Most symptoms are caused by harmless conditions, but can also indicate the possibility of other problems such as cancer, anemia, or oral herpes.

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