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Is Your Canker Sore a Sign You Have Coronavirus?

canker sore coronavirus


As we ride this rollercoaster of the coronavirus pandemic, we find ourselves with new fears and anxieties, especially related to unexpected health issues and symptoms. 

Before COVID-19 emerged, you might not have given your canker sores a second thought (other than, “Ugh, this again?”). But now it’s easy to worry that issues like canker sores are related to the coronavirus. 

Learn more about the potential canker sore-coronavirus connection so that you can respond properly to your symptoms and remain safe and healthy. 

What Is the Canker Sore-Coronavirus Connection?

The two health problems don’t sound related, but yes, it’s possible that your canker sores could indicate an underlying coronavirus infection. Just not for the reason you’d expect.

There’s no evidence that COVID-19 directly triggers canker sore ulcers, but the stress and trauma of a coronavirus infection could manifest itself in a way that triggers canker sores. Anecdotal evidence and clinical research suggest a high correlation between canker sores and stress, anxiety and depression.

The pandemic has posed unique challenges to our mental health and wellness. You may be mourning the loss of a loved one, coping with isolation, worrying for your safety, or missing your pre-pandemic routine. These significant and difficult changes undoubtedly lead to feelings of stress, anger, fear and depression. 

As a result, you may have trouble sleeping, struggle to control existing health problems, eat poorly, or turn to bad habits to cope. These are common reactions to stress and trauma, but they threaten to weaken your immune system. Without a strong immune system, your body struggles to properly fight antigens and invaders. This is why you always seem to become more susceptible to illnesses when you’re under intense stress. 

Considering the serious impact stress can have on your health, it’s no wonder that the coronavirus, as well as the pandemic as a whole, can make your body more vulnerable to canker sore outbreaks

Other Mouth Ulcers May Be Coronavirus Symptoms

Canker sores are just one type of ulcer that can develop inside your mouth. While canker sores aren’t identified as a common or direct symptom of COVID-19, some other mouth ulcers are. 

A mouth ulcer is a small lesion that appears on the soft tissues of the mouth, such as the lips, gums, tongue or cheeks. Before the pandemic, oral ulcers were mainly associated with trauma to the mouth or an underlying condition. Now, however, they’ve been linked to COVID-19 through a phenomenon known as “COVID tongue.”

Oral symptoms now associated with a coronavirus infection can include a persistent, white film on the tongue, a furry tongue, geographic tongue, and painful lesions or rashes on the tongue or in the mouth. Patients may experience only one of these symptoms or many of them at once, as in this man’s case.

A growing number of coronavirus patients now report having COVID tongue, especially those with severe infection. The percentage of patients who experience this symptom remains low, with fewer than one in 100 reporting COVID tongue, but the number may increase as more people become aware that the symptom is related to their illness.

This trend is also demonstrated in research published by the British Journal of Dermatology. More than 300 of the 666 patients studied presented signs of this oral complication, which included burning sensations, ulcers, painful red and white bumps, and swelling.

Because of its relatively low occurrence and less obvious nature in the face of more serious symptoms, COVID tongue was not originally identified as a symptom of coronavirus infection. However, it is now becoming more recognized as a consistent coronavirus side effect.

If you’re experiencing unfamiliar discomfort in your mouth or if you’ve noticed the appearance of your tongue changing, consider speaking to your doctor or dentist and getting tested for a coronavirus infection. 

canker sore coronavirus

Common COVID-19 Symptoms

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus known as SARS-CoV-2. It particularly affects the upper respiratory tract, including the sinuses, nose and throat, as well as the lungs and windpipe. 

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but others become severely ill. 

The most common coronavirus symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, including:

  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Congestion

Other more intense symptoms indicate the need for immediate emergency medical care:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pressure in the chest
  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue skin and lips
  • Low blood oxygen

Canker Sore Symptoms

Fortunately, canker sores symptoms are relatively easy to identify. Canker sores remain inside the mouth (unlike cold sores) and don’t typically cause other side effects.

Minor canker sores are small, pale and oval-shaped with a red or pink edge. They’re the most common, accounting for about 80% of canker sore cases

Major canker sores are larger and deeper, with irregular edges. These sores can last more than two weeks and grow to over one centimeter in diameter. Adults usually experience extreme pain and difficulty eating and drinking during major canker sore outbreaks. 

Herpetiform canker sores are tiny but occur in large clusters that may combine into one large ulcer. They can develop in many places, including on the inside of the lips, on the roof of the mouth, inside the cheeks, under the tongue, and at the base of the gums. These usually heal in one to two weeks.

Some canker sores can even develop on the tonsils or in the back of the throat. These cankers display distinct red edges and a yellow, gray or white center. The pain caused by a canker sore in the throat is so severe that it’s often mistaken for strep throat or tonsillitis. 

Is It Time To See a Doctor?

Canker sores rarely become severe enough to require medical attention, but it’s possible. If your canker sores are causing intense pain or triggering other serious side effects, it may be time to see a doctor.

These symptoms indicate that your canker sore outbreak may be caused by a more serious issue that requires medical attention:

  • Severe and painful side effects
  • Canker sores that haven’t healed after 2-3 weeks
  • Swollen gums
  • Weakening immune system

It’s also critical to see a doctor if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms in addition to your canker sores. Trouble breathing, persistent pressure in the chest, confusion, and bluish lips are four COVID-19 symptoms that require immediate medical attention. Once you’ve been assessed, a doctor will determine if you should be treated in the hospital or sent home to quarantine.

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