COVID Tongue: What You Need to Know


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Headaches, brain fog, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue … these are just some of the lingering symptoms people may have if they had COVID. But now doctors are seeing patients coming in with a new symptom that is impacting their ability to talk and eat, COVID tongue. Ivanhoe has the details.

You won your battle with COVID, but the war is not over just yet. According to the CDC, 35 percent of people infected with COVID will experience lingering headaches, coughs, heart problems, balance issues and more, lasting weeks or even months. Now a new rare symptom is showing up in doctors’ offices. It’s called macroglossia, or an enlarged tongue.

“What we call a true massive macroglossia is what we’re seeing is when it’s hanging past their chin that’s coming down almost kind of appendage,” explained James Melville, DDS, UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry.

However, the condition is not a direct side effect of COVID, but rather a symptom of some treatments for COVID.

“It was associated with long-term intubation,” continued Dr. Melville.

And most COVID patients who develop macroglossia had a history of being in the prone position where they were turned over on their stomachs to get more oxygen in their lungs.

“Because of the giant tongue, they can’t talk, can’t go out in public, can’t eat by mouth, so their quality of life is extremely poor,” said Dr. Melville.

To treat the condition compression wrapping may work. But Dr. Melville says the most effective treatment is tongue reduction surgery.

“The surgery itself takes about 45 minutes. It’s not a long, complicated surgery either,” shared Dr. Melville.

An effective solution to a growing problem.

Most of the patients that have developed macroglossia have been African American or black. Doctor Melville is currently doing a study to find out if there is a genetic factor that can be causing the condition in certain populations.

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; and Roque Correa, Editor.


REPORT #2912

BACKGROUND: Macroglossia is the abnormal enlargement of the tongue and may be found in individuals affected by certain inherited or congenital disorders including Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, acromegaly, primary amyloidosis, congenital hypothyroidism, Down syndrome, or Apert syndrome. Macroglossia may also be a sign of certain acquired disorders, including malignancies, metabolic/endocrine disorders, and inflammatory or infectious diseases. Dominant genetic disorders occur when only a single copy of an abnormal gene is necessary for the appearance of the disease. The abnormal gene can be inherited from either parent or can be the result of a new mutation in the affected individual. The risk of passing the abnormal gene from affected parent to offspring is 50% for each pregnancy regardless of the child being male or female.


COVID AND ORAL HEALTH: Common COVID symptoms like lost or altered sense of taste, dry mouth, and sores may last long after other symptoms disappear. Brazilian researchers studied oral health symptoms in nearly 65,000 COVID patients around the world. They found patients with COVID can have a reduced sense of taste; a distorted sense of taste, in which everything tastes sweet, sour, bitter or metallic; or a total loss of all taste. Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a spokesman for the American Dental Association who reviewed the study, said, “Regarding COVID-19 patients specifically, the important message is to maintain healthy oral health habits during their illness if they are able to do so.” Some COVID patients in the study reported lesions on or under their tongue or along the gums and sides of the mouth. Hewlett said these complications are not unique to COVID-19 and they don’t happen to everyone. Oral health issues have risen during the pandemic as many patients have put off routine checkups.


TREATMENTS FOR MACROGLOSSIA: Diagnosing macroglossia includes a physical exam where your doctor will check the size of your tongue in proportion to the rest of your mouth, and look for lesions, swelling, or discoloration. They will look at medical history to narrow down what’s causing your enlarged tongue. Then, depending on answers from those, your doctor will recommend certain blood tests which may include a thyroid function test. Finally, a CT or MRI scan will let your doctor examine the tissues in and around your mouth. Speech therapy is used to treat mild macroglossia where a speech therapist teaches you how to control your tongue position and improve how you speak. If medication can help the underlying cause, it will likely be prescribed. Underlying causes may include hypothyroidism, acromegaly, and tuberculosis. Orthodontic treatment may be necessary if dental issues, like misaligned teeth spacing, are present. This may also be used after macroglossia surgery. Finally, about 10 percent of macroglossia cases require surgery which can involve removing part of the tongue, called a glossectomy. Benefits of surgery include reduced drooling, improved ability to eat, and improved speech.


* For More Information, Contact:

Jeannette Sanchez, Media Relations

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