Tongue pain, or Covid tongue, is a lesser-known symptom of COVID-19. It can cause swelling, a burning sensation, and rough, bumpy surface skin on the tongue.
COVID-19 affecting the tongue is a less common symptom, but doctors refer to the effect on the tongue as “COVID tongue.”
This article discusses COVID tongue and its symptoms, causes, treatments, and when to seek medical help.
A person with COVID-19 may experience symptoms such as:
A less common symptom is COVID tongue.
In several reported cases of COVID tongue, symptoms have
- tongue swelling
- burning sensation
People experiencing COVID tongue
White or yellow patches or ulcers may appear on the tongue and surrounding tissue. As a result of irritated and inflamed tissue, a person may also experience red patches, known as
A condition known as
There are several publications of case reports and small-scale studies regarding COVID tongue.
A 2020 study evaluated the symptoms of 666 patients with COVID-19. Overall, 11.7% of people reported symptoms in the oral cavity. Of these people, the following reported:
- red bumps — 11.5%
- white patches — 3.9%
- burning sensation — 5.3%
- ulcers — 6.9%
The study concluded that it was difficult to attribute the lesions to COVID-19 alone, and it may be due to other factors such as treatment reaction or a weakened immune system.
Due to the small number of studies investigating COVID tongue, further studies investigating the link between COVID and tongue symptoms are necessary to draw firm conclusions.
Various factors can cause COVID tongue, which may be the reason there is limited information regarding the condition. Infections, in general, can cause changes to the oral cavity. Therefore, COVID tongue can occur for many other reasons. Some of these include:
- A high number of angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) receptors on the tongue:
Studieshave found that ACE2 receptors are the primary targets for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. ACE2 receptors are common in the tongue cells and can lead to swelling when infected.
- Oral herpes: Several studies have shown that the inflammation caused by SARS-CoV-2 can
reactivatea dormant herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which causes oral herpes. This condition has symptoms similarto COVID tongue, such as:
- mouth ulcers
- Dry mouth: A
commonside effect of antiviral drugs is that people with COVID-19 can experience dry mouth. Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 may cause damage to the salivary glands in some cases, so the glands secrete less saliva, leading to dry mouth.
- Weakened immune system: Both viral and bacterial infections can cause changes in the body. Inflammation is a common
responseto fighting infection and can present all over the body, including the tongue.
- Oral thrush: This is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of pathogens in the mouth. It is a common side effect of antiviral drugs, in addition to a weakened immune system.
Common symptomsof oral thrush include:
- white patches
Several studies have evaluated the adverse effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, there are limited studies linking it to oral issues.
The study concluded that these factors could have contributed to the development of COVID tongue since they can both affect the immune system.
A 2022 study investigated oral adverse events following COVID-19 and seasonal influenza vaccinations. The most commonly reported symptoms included lip and tongue swelling, a tingling sensation, and dry mouth.
The study concluded that the oral adverse events reported following both vaccines were remarkably similar.
Since the exact cause of COVID tongue is still unknown, and various factors can affect its development, there is insufficient evidence to attribute the COVID-19 vaccine to COVID tongue.
A person may experience a condition or disease of the tongue that presents similar symptoms to COVID tongue. Therefore, a person may believe they have COVID tongue. Conditions that may cause similar symptoms as COVID tongue include:
- oral thrush
- oral herpes
- bacterial, fungal, or viral infection
There is no specific treatment for COVID tongue. However, treating COVID-19 has been shown to alleviate symptoms. Additionally, COVID tongue generally resolves itself after recovery from the disease.
For more symptom-specific treatments, several over-the-counter remedies have been shown to help,
- antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial mouthwashes for white patches and ulcers — read more about COVID-19 and mouthwash
- saliva substitutes for dry mouth
- lozenges to trigger saliva production
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for tongue swelling and pain
If COVID tongue symptoms persist after 2 weeks, a person should seek medical help. Doctors can prescribe medication or therapies that can help alleviate symptoms. These may
- steroid mouthwashes
- low-level light therapy
It is currently unclear if COVID tongue is a symptom of COVID-19 itself or if it manifests as a result of disease progression. Researchers are conducting more studies to determine whether there is a correlation between the two. However, there is not enough evidence to currently make those conclusions.
Individuals experiencing COVID tongue usually recover independently, and very few cases have shown people in critical condition.
Other more common symptoms of COVID-19
- shortness of breath
COVID tongue can present as swelling, redness, ulcers, and white patches.
While several studies have investigated COVID tongue, there is insufficient evidence to conclude its cause. Factors such as pre-existing conditions, age, and other infections can also impact its development.
Reported cases usually resolve with minimal medical attention. However, if symptoms persist after recovery from COVID-19, it is best to consult a doctor.