COVID-19 tongue is a term for a variety of symptoms associated with the tongue and mouth that are experienced by some people during or after a COVID-19 infection. The symptoms include white patches on the tongue, bumps, ulcers, tongue swelling, red and swollen tongue and/or a burning sensation in the mouth. Researchers are still studying this affliction to better understand and treat it. One important question they hope to resolve is whether COVID-19 tongue might be an early symptom, allowing for earlier COVID-19 testing in individuals experiencing it.
It isn’t known exactly how many people get this condition. One small study showed that 11.7% of their hospitalized COVID-19 patients had symptoms relating to the tongue or mouth. Although more than 11% is a significant amount, there has not yet been enough analysis to determine if this percentage is consistent for all those with COVID-19 infections. It also remains to be seen exactly which instances of mouth and tongue symptoms are COVID-19 tongue versus from other causes.
Because of the lack of distinct diagnostic criteria for COVID-19 tongue, it is difficult to determine which patients are experiencing an oral condition specific to COVID-19 infection. A metastudy performed by analyzing data from 17 different academic papers on COVID-19 that dealt with mouth and tongue symptoms found an array of different symptoms. There did not appear to be one unifying set of symptoms that always characterized a specific condition that could be identified. The most common of these symptoms included:
Another complicating factor is determining the percentage of people with a mild to moderate COVID-19 infection that may be affected. The studies cited have predominantly focused on patients who have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19. Much less information is available for patients who test positive for the disease but are not hospitalized. More study is needed to better understand if these symptoms are occuring at a similar rate for COVID-19 positive individuals who are not hospitalized, or even asymptomatic in all other ways, compared to patients with severe symptoms that require hospitalization.
More study is needed to understand the underlying cause of the oral symptoms among COVID-19 patients, but there have been several causes suggested (HealthLine article). It is as yet unknown if any one, or a combination of these conditions are the cause of oral COVID-19 symptoms.
It appears that oral symptoms associated with COVID-19 typically resolve on their own. If a patient is wondering how to get rid of COVID tongue symptoms, there are some options, however. Potential options for COVID tongue treatment at home include managing the discomfort of dry mouth with an artificial saliva mouth rinse, or using over the counter anti-inflammatory medication to minimize mouth swelling. Consult your health care provider with any symptoms before deciding what your best treatment options are.
In severe cases, doctor prescribed corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory drugs may be offered as a treatment of COVID tongue to reduce swelling. If a specific condition is identified as causing symptoms such as thrush or cold sores, antibacterial, antiviral or antifungal mouth washes or other medication may be recommended as a covid mouth rash treatment. In extreme cases, low level laser therapy may be used to treat mouth or tongue ulcers.
Because there is little concrete data on this condition, it is difficult to answer the question of how long COVID tongue after recovery takes to resolve. In the metastudy mentioned previously, that included 170 patients with oral symptoms concurrent with COVID-19, all cases with recorded beginning and end times of oral symptoms resolved within 3 weeks of onset. However, only 42 of the 170 patients’ information was complete enough to determine length of COVID-19 tongue, so more information is needed before this data can be used with confidence.
Ultimately, the CDC has not yet included COVID-19 tongue in the list of symptoms common with a COVID-19 infection. As more information continues to be collected about the relatively rare symptoms associated with COVID-19, we will gain greater understanding about what COVID tongue might indicate. If you have any symptoms you believe might indicate you have COVID-19, consult with your healthcare provider and the most recent recommendations from the CDC and WHO.
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