What You Should Know About 'COVID Tongue'

As the pandemic approaches its one-year mark, a new potential symptom of the coronavirus has emerged: COVID tongue. According to Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King's College London and the lead investigator of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study, a growing number of coronavirus patients are developing mouth ulcers and COVID tongue — the discoloration, enlargement, or inflammation of the tongue (via Today).

While he has estimated that around 1 in 500 patients will experience COVID tongue, there is not yet enough data to confirm this estimate or to even add it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s list of official COVID-19 symptoms. However, Spector is not alone in his findings.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that 78 out of 666 patients with COVID-19 presented with oral cavity problems, including a swollen tongue with indentations, inflammation of the small bumps on the surface of the tongue, a loss of taste, and patchy areas on the tongue.

What causes COVID tongue?

While the possible, non-classic symptom of COVID tongue still requires further study, experts agree that it is certainly plausible that COVID-19 could cause the tongue to become inflamed. This is because ACE2 receptors in your body bind to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, allowing it to infect your cells and replicate.

"There are a lot of ACE receptors in the tongue, so the virus concentrates very heavily in this region," Dr. Rajeev Fernando, an infectious disease physician, told Health. "In the tongue, there can be a lot of COVID." In other words, symptoms can occur wherever ACE2 receptors are present.

However, having a sore or swollen tongue doesn't automatically mean that you have COVID-19. If you do have the coronavirus, you will most likely have other more common symptoms in addition to COVID tongue. Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include, fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose.