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Bizarre reason boy’s tongue turned bright yellow

A 12-year-old boy’s yellow tongue has helped tip off doctors about a rare medical condition.

The boy, from Toronto, Canada, was hospitalised at the Hospital for Sick Children after four days of sore throat, dark-coloured urine, abdominal pain and a pale appearance, according to his case in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors believed from looking at his urine and the discolouration of his tongue that he had jaundice. Jaundice, which is often indicated by a discolouration of the eyes and or skin, can be a sign of an underlying health problem.

A boy, 12, is pictured with a yellow tongue.
A boy, 12, came to hospital with a yellow tongue and a sore throat. Source: New England Journal of Medicine

His blood and urine were assessed, and cold agglutinins were detected.

Cold agglutinin disease is a rare type of autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own red blood cells, according to the US Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. It can lead to anaemia which is where the blood does not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body and other autoimmune diseases.

In the boy’s case, doctors also diagnosed him as anaemic.

Discoloured urine is pictured in a vial.
The boy's urine was analysed. Source: New England Journal of Medicine

Serology testing also led to a diagnosis of Epstein-Barr virus. Epstein-Barr virus is a form of herpes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of it include rash, fever and sore throat.

He was given packed red cells and prednisone. Prednisone is used to help ease a body's immune system response such as swelling.

Fortunately, he recovered well and his tongue’s colour returned to normal.

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