If You Notice This on Your Tongue, It Could Be the First Sign of COVID

One doctor is shining a spotlight on this obscure set of oral symptoms.

From "COVID toes" to loss of smell and taste, the new coronavirus is known for its strange array of symptoms. But few are as odd as "COVID tongue," a collection of peculiar oral symptoms that in rare cases result from the virus. Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, recently took to Twitter to highlight the subtle symptoms, which he says should be considered potential red flags for COVID cases. Read on to learn more about Spector's warning, and for some more early symptoms to look out for, check out These Are The Most Common Early Signs You Have COVID, Study Finds.

As the epidemiologist explains, signs of COVID tongue may include swelling, ulcers, a painful rash, "scalloped" indentations on the sides of the tongue, or a white or yellow "furry coating" on the tongue that isn't fixed by brushing.

"Seeing increasing numbers of COVID tongues and strange mouth ulcers," Spector advised in a Jan. 13 tweet. "If you have a strange symptom or even just headache and fatigue stay at home!"

Though he estimates that COVID tongue is relatively rare, affecting roughly one in 500 COVID patients, Spector says that any strange symptom should be treated with caution. These rare presentations of the virus underscore just how wide-ranging COVID's symptoms can be—a fact that may encourage people to stay home even in the absence of more typical COVID symptoms, such as cough or fever.

Based on his work as lead investigator of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study, an app that allows people to report their symptoms to a database, Spector shared with NBC News that he believes at least one third of COVID-19 patients experience atypical symptoms within the first three days after infection.

"It's a good reminder that there are so many different manifestations of this virus rather than just the classical ones," he recently told the news outlet.

Wondering what other rare symptoms should be on your radar? Read on for more surprising COVID symptoms, and for more on the long COVID symptoms you need to know, check out The Terrifying Long COVID Symptom Doctors Are Now Warning About.

Inflammation of the testis

testicles things women don't understand about men

According to experts from the Mayo Clinic, men should be on the lookout for inflammation of the testis as a possible COVID symptom. "As with previous coronaviruses, viral binding to the ACE2 receptor in the testis may lead to tissue inflammation and the development of orchi-epididymitis with testicular pain," explains one study published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online. This can go on to cause "testicular damage and orchitis," the researchers say. And for more on how the virus affects this part of your body, check out You May Not Ever Be Able to Do This After Surviving COVID, Study Warns.

Prolonged hiccups

Why We Hiccup

In at least two documented COVID cases, a prolonged bout of the hiccups was the only visible symptom. The two patients had the hiccups for over 72 hours and four days, respectively, before seeking emergency medical attention at the hospital. Each was given a chest X-ray and determined to have "ground glass opacities" in the lungs, a sign of pneumonia. Both patients later tested positive for COVID. And for more subtle COVID symptoms to add to your list, check out If This Part of Your Body Hurts, You Could Have COVID.


Woman experiencing hallucinations

Delirium is not typically associated with COVID-19, but researchers have increasingly found that many elderly patients (and some younger patients) present with this neurological symptom. "Delirium is a state of confusion in which the person feels out of touch with reality, as if they are dreaming," Javier Correa, PhD, a researcher on one such recent study, said in a statement. "We need to be on the alert, particularly in an epidemiological situation like this, because an individual presenting certain signs of confusion may be an indication of infection." And for more regular COVID updates sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Hair loss

Portrait of a woman examining her scalp and hair in front of the mirror, noticing hair loss
triocean / iStock

There are many possible explanations for hair loss besides COVID, but experts say this subtle symptom can mean you've recently been infected. That's because COVID can be so traumatic for our bodies, Sara Hogan, MD, a health sciences clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, recently told WebMD.

"You can have this major event, and then it can be about three to five months later that all of a sudden, you start to notice the shedding," Hogan explains. And for other ways to spot a COVID case early, check out The Earliest Signs You Have COVID, According to the Mayo Clinic.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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