A leading UK expert is warning people to stay vigilant of an uncommon, but increasing symptom of coronavirus infection; the COVID tongue.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Public Health England (PHE) have all published a list of COVID-19 symptoms. These include the most common; fever, cough, loss of smell, and the less common; headache, diarrhea, joint pain, and skin rash. Although the lists do not mention any oral symptoms, Professor Tim Spector warns of a rise in cases of an uncommon symptom called the COVID tongue.
An expert genetic epidemiologist at King’s College London, Professor Spector is currently leading the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app. The mobile app tracks self-reported symptoms of COVID-19. Then, using statistical analysis, researchers determine which symptoms are likely to indicate an infection.
What can White Patches on the Tongue Mean?
On January 13, Professor Spector tweeted a photo of a person’s tongue covered with white patches. He called it the COVID tongue. Despite no mention of it in any official symptom lists, he argued the presence of COVID tongue and oral ulcers can likely predict a person is infected. Thus, warning people to look out for this uncommon symptom.
However, this is not the first-time researchers have reported tongue changes in COVID-19 patients. In September 2020, Chinese researchers analyzed tongue features in patients suffering from coronavirus infection. The study found that people with mild and moderate infections had a light red tongue with a white coating. Whereas a severe infection presented with a greasy coating and a tender tongue.
Moreover, it is important to note that tongue changes are also associated with various other infections such as oral thrush. This is a common fungal infection of the mouth and results in white patches on the tongue. In an interview with HuffPost UK, Professor Damien Walmsley revealed that white patches can also occur due to antibiotics, use of asthma inhalers, and a rare condition called a geographical tongue.
Despite the limited reports of this strange symptom, Professor Spector advises that people self-isolate if they notice a headache or similar tongue changes.
Pang, Wentai, et al. “Tongue Features of Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019: a Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study.” Integrative Medicine Research, vol. 9, no. 3, Sept. 2020, p. 100493., doi:10.1016/j.imr.2020.100493.