With COVID-19 affecting millions all over the world, there’s been reports of some weird symptoms and lasting effects of the virus. One of the most notable symptoms was the loss of taste and smell, which eventually became an “official” symptom of the virus, according to the CDC.
It turns out there are also odd, lasting effects of the virus after recovery. We’ve already told you about COVID nails—ridges, grooves, or indentations that run horizontally across your nail plate. There have also been reports of COVID toes, which are small “purple-colored” lesions on the tips of the toes, as well as skin rashes.
A new sign that you may have been infected with coronavirus is “COVID tongue.”
How Did It Start?
“COVID tongue” is now on the scientific radar thanks to a research letter recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology. The letter analyzed the data taken from 666 patients at a temporary field hospital in Spain, and found that more than 45% of COVID patients had some form of mucocutaneous symptoms.
Calling symptoms “mucocutaneous” is just a fancy science way of saying that they appear in areas where mucous membranes meet the skin, like your eyes, mouth and genitalia.
According to the letter, more than 25% of patients had symptoms in their mouth, which included bumps on the tongue. Other symptoms included overall redness and swelling of the tongue. Many patients reported feeling a burning sensation in their mouth and a loss of taste. There were also reports of inflammation of bumps on the skin’s surface.
So what do doctors think about “COVID tongue”?
Face Masks Are Making Things Difficult
We didn’t talk to every doctor about “COVID tongue” to get their opinion. We did, however, notice a few of their insights. Infectious disease physician Rajeev Fernando confirmed that COVID tongue was legit, saying he had “seen a few.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Richard Watkins MD, an infectious disease expert physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, said that he has yet to see it in his COVID patients.
However, there’s a specific reason why he hasn’t seen it. Dr. Watkins said that patients are usually wearing masks, and he doesn’t tell them to take their masks off.
The masks, though, are most likely the biggest reasons “COVID tongue” has gone underreported, said Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University of Buffalo in New York.
“Many physicians focus on the heart, lungs and abdomen and — in the age of COVID-19 — they pass on examining the mouth even more because it can increase their risk of getting infected,” Dr. Russo explained. “This has probably been missed in a lot of individuals.”
It’s Not Really Unique To COVID-19
Even though this symptom has recently been dubbed “COVID tongue,” it’s important to note that this phenomenon is not unique to COVID. Dr. Russo said that “a number of viruses can cause mucocutaneous manifestations.” Dr. Fernando added that this symptom isn’t “a slam dunk for a COVID-19 diagnosis.”
‘COVID Tongue’ Doesn’t Mean You’ve Had The Virus
As with everything else related to the virus, it’s hard to know what’s factually true and what isn’t. It will take years to fully understand what the world has been through in the past 18 months. And, of course, it’s possible we will never fully know why the virus affects some people the way that it does.
Still, Dr. Russo admitted that it is “biologically plausible” that the virus can make your tongue swell. As he explained it, your cells contain enzymes known as ACE receptors. This is what the virus latches onto, and that’s how it gets into your cells, replicates and makes you sick.
“There are a lot of ACE receptors in the tongue, so the virus concentrates very heavily in this region,” he said. “In the tongue, there can be a lot of COVID.”
What If Your Tongue Looks Or Feels Weird?
According to Dr. Fernando, it’s extremely unlikely that “COVID tongue” would be the only symptom you would develop from the virus. Instead, he said it would be part of “a constellation of symptoms,” like shortness of breath, cough and loss of smell and taste.
If you think your tongue looks or feels weird, it’s possible you’ve had COVID-19. It’s also possible that you’ve had another type of virus. Or, maybe you just ate something that didn’t agree with you.
Dr. Russo echoed that sentiment, saying that “all of these oral and mucocutaneous manifestations tend to be nonspecific.” The big takeaway is that tongue inflammation and bumps could indicate something’s not quite right. However, these symptoms are no reason to panic.