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A Rare, Lingering Symptom: What Is COVID Tongue?

February 24, 2022

If you're keeping track of all COVID-19 symptoms reported since the pandemic began two years and almost 80 million cases ago in the United States, you can now add "COVID Tongue" to your spreadsheet. People have reported this phenomenon, with swollen tongues and small bumps, ulcers and white patches to the ZOE COVID Study, which analyzes symptoms uploaded via an app by the British public. It's also called "geographic tongue" because the inflammation gives the tongue a geographic, maplike look, or macroglossia (enlarged tongue). "COVID tongue as well as COVID toes and other rashes have been described from the beginning," says Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s System Director of Infection Disease and Chief Epidemiologist. "Oral manifestations are not only limited to COVID. They can be common among other diseases." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 35 percent of COVID patients experience long-term effects such as coughs, headaches, heart issues or brain fog. It's possible some cases are caused by when the virus that causes COVID-19 attaches to proteins on the tongue called ACE receptors, entering the body's cells and eventually causing swelling. Other cases could be related to long-term intubation, an artificial ventilation tube placed in a patient's trachea. In these cases, patients are often on their stomachs for long periods to allow more oxygen into their lungs. Or it could be an immune response causing swelling anywhere in the body or a fungus known as oral thrush caused by an infection. Doctors typically prescribe an anti-inflammatory or certain mouth rinses to treat the ulcers and bumps. A Spanish study in 2020 found 11 percent of hospitalized COVID patients had tongue issues, though researchers only looked at patients in a single field hospital. The ZOE study does not include tongue issues among its 20 most commonly reported symptoms. The most common are:

  • Runny nose.
  • Headache.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sneezing.
  • Sore throat.
If you're experiencing long-term effects of COVID-19, schedule a virtual visit or in-person appointment with Hartford HealthCare's COVID Recovery Center. For more information, call 860.827.3200 or click here.