Over the past year, we've learned about some of the more unusual ways that COVID-19 can manifest, whether it's skin rashes and 'COVID toes' or hair loss. Now you can add 'COVID tongue' to that list. Yep, in addition to the loss of taste, which is listed as one of the 11 official symptoms by the CDC, experts are now warning that swelling of the tongue and strange mouth ulcers should be on your radar, too.
According to a research letter published in the British Journal of Dermatology, 25% of COVID patients studied by doctors at the peak of the pandemic in Spain had symptoms in their mouth. These "oral cavity findings" included glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) or papillitis (painful inflammation of the tongue) which can present as bumps, swelling, redness, or even as a burning or "pins and needles sensation.” Some also experienced "patchy" areas on the tongue.
So, why has 'COVID tongue' flown so under the radar for nearly a year? Well, most physicians are more focused on the heart and lungs and "pass on examining the mouth because it can increase their risk of getting infected," Thomas Russo, M.D., professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York tells Health.
"I have treated a good number of COVID-19 patients, but none of my patients had these symptoms, and I didn’t hear anyone I know complaining of it either," Sunitha Posina, M.D. an internal medicine physician who worked on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, tells InStyle. "It's possible that it simply went unnoticed, especially if it was mild," she adds.
In other words, it's hard to know how many people have really experienced sore, swollen, or bumpy tongues as a result of COVID.
The good news is that you probably don't need to overly stress out about your tongue's appearance and spiral into a Google image search frenzy. First of all, these symptoms aren't specific to COVID. In fact, it could be the result of any number of viruses that can cause oral lesions, such as syphilis, herpes type 1, or HPV, says Dr. Posina — or it could simply be irritation from something you ate.
Plus, it's unlikely that tongue inflammation or bumps would be your only coronavirus symptom. "You're most likely to have a few other symptoms along with 'COVID tongue' such as cough, fever, loss of sensation of smell and/or taste," Dr. Posina says, which would tip you off first. That said, if you recognize anything abnormal with your tongue, it's still a good idea to get tested as a precaution, she adds.
Bottom line: The existence of 'COVID tongue' is definitely validating for those who experienced the symptom and tested positive for the virus without knowing this was a real thing, but a slightly funky-looking tongue isn't necessarily something to panic about right now, either (especially if you don't have any other symptoms or haven't been exposed to someone with Covid).
So with that, you can take a deep breath and close your front-facing camera.