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Scarlet Fever on the Tongue: Symptoms, Risks, and Complications

Published date field Last Updated:

Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

If you hear your 4-year-old complaining, "My tongue hurts," you'll naturally be worried and wonder what's causing the pain. You're probably familiar with the disease scarlet fever, but did you know that one of its symptoms is a rash on the tongue? Find out what's causing this rash and how to help your little one go back to feeling their best again.

How Does Scarlet Fever Affect the Tongue?

Scarlet fever is an infection that can develop in people who have strep throat. Alongside a rash that looks like sunburn and feels like sandpaper that spreads over the face, neck, trunk, arms, and legs, your little one's tongue might develop a white coating. This is an early sign of scarlet fever on the tongue. Eventually, the tongue will turn bright red, and red bumps will appear. This condition is also known as "strawberry tongue." Your child might develop a sore throat and have difficulty swallowing. So does this mean you can get strep on your tongue? Essentially!

Note that strawberry tongue isn't only caused by scarlet fever, so it's important to visit a doctor to get diagnosed as soon as you see any signs.

What Are the Causes or Risk Factors?

The type of bacteria that causes strep throat can also cause scarlet fever. The bacteria release a toxin that produces the rash and red tongue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scarlet fever is more common in the winter and spring and usually affects kids between the ages of 5 and 15.

The most common risk factor is coming into close contact with someone who already has scarlet fever. That's why crowding, for instance, in schools or daycare centers, can increase its spread.

When to See Your Doctor

The Mayo Clinic advises that take your child to see a doctor if your child has a sore throat along with:

  • A fever of 102 F or higher
  • Swollen or tender glands in the neck
  • A red rash

Scarlet fever is usually treated with a round of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. While it's easily cured with antibiotics, it can have serious long-term effects if left untreated. It can spread to the tonsils, lungs, skin, kidneys, blood, and middle ear. Rarely, untreated scarlet fever can lead to rheumatic fever.

It's normal to feel concerned if you suddenly see a rash on your child's tongue. But now that you know what to look out for, you should feel confident about seeing a doctor, so your child feels better as soon as possible!


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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