The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 was first discovered in late 2019. As researchers have had more time to study it, they’ve discovered more possible symptoms of COVID-19 — including some reported instances of throat ulcers.

Keep reading to learn whether throat ulcers are a potential symptom of COVID-19 as well as what other conditions may cause them.

Some case studies have reported people with COVID-19 developing ulcers in their mouth or throat. It’s not clear whether COVID-19 directly causes ulcers or if it weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to developing other infections.

Ulcers of the mouth and throat are potential symptoms of many viral, bacterial, and yeast infections and are thought to be possible symptoms of COVID-19 infection, too. It’s thought that infections are responsible for about 88 percent of mouth ulcers, and they’re especially common in viral infections.

First, it’s important to recognize the most common reported symptoms of COVID-19, including:

So far, only a handful of case studies have reported people with COVID-19 developing ulcers of the throat.

More studies report people developing ulcers on their tongue, cheeks, lips, and palate. A review of studies in Dermatology Therapy found 22 cases of people with COVID-19 who developed aphthous ulcers.

Also known as canker sores, aphthous ulcers developed between 0 to 10 days after the start of COVID-19 symptoms. The most common sites were the tongue and lips.

A December 2020 review of studies found that advanced age and severity of COVID-19 infection are the most common factors that predict the severity of ulcers.

It’s still not clear if COVID-19 directly leads to ulcers or weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to secondary infections.

The exact symptoms and duration of ulcers can depend on the underlying cause. Many types of ulcers have been linked to COVID-19 infection. The study mentioned earlier from Dermatology Therapy found oral sores caused pain in 68 percent of cases and that they healed within 3 to 28 days.

Case study: Tonsil ulcer

In a case study published in 2020, researchers examined a 38-year-old male with COVID-19 who developed an ulcer on his left tonsil, among other symptoms. Here’s how the symptoms developed:

  • Day 1. The man developed fatigue and body aches.
  • Day 2. He found he had a low-grade fever.
  • Day 3. He developed a rash near his groin.
  • Day 4. The rash spread and he developed a sore throat. Medical examination revealed redness and an ulcer on his left tonsil.
  • Day 5. The man lost his sense of smell and taste.
  • Day 6. The results of a swab taken on the fourth day came back positive for COVID-19.

The man didn’t develop any respiratory symptoms and had only mild symptoms. Doctors prescribed Tylenol for the pain and recommended drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and social distancing.

Case study: Vocal cord ulcer

In another case study, a 57-year-old woman in Italy developed an ulcer on her vocal cords after spending 9 days on a mechanical ventilator. Vocal cord ulcers are a well-known complication of mechanical ventilation.

Damage to mucosal tissue, infections, and continuous pressure against the vocal cords are the main contributing factors.

Case study: Throat ulcer

Another case study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology describes a 63-year-old man whose only COVID-19 symptom was ulceration of his throat.

Here are some of the other conditions that may lead to throat ulcers.

Infections

Ulcers of the mouth or throat can result from viral infections, such as:

The bacterium Helicobacter pylori can damage the lining of your esophagus and make it more susceptible to damage and ulcers.

An oral yeast infection can also spread to your throat and lead to the development of sores.

Cancer treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can destroy healthy cells in your mouth and throat. Damage to these cells can lead to the formation of ulcers.

Ulcers may cause pain with eating, talking, or swallowing.

Cancer of the throat

Persistent ulcers that don’t heal or don’t have an obvious cause are potential symptoms of throat cancer. Other symptoms include:

  • a lump in your throat
  • unusual bleeding or numbness
  • changes in your voice
  • swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • persistent cough, possibly with blood

Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)

GERD can wear away the lining of your esophagus and cause ulcers.

GERD can also lead to a burning in your chest, a sour or bitter taste in your mouth, and regurgitation of food from your stomach to your mouth.

Throat irritations

Irritation from singing, coughing, or talking can lead to ulcers on your vocal cords. Other irritations that may lead to throat ulcers include:

It’s a good idea to see a doctor if your throat ulcers persist longer than a few days or if you’re also experiencing other concerning symptoms.

Symptoms that should prompt immediate medical attention include:

If you think you have COVID-19, get a test right away and isolate yourself from others. If your test is positive, get immediate medical help. Let medical professionals at the medical facility know that you’re positive for COVID-19.

There’s no cure for COVID-19.

For mild illness, the best treatment includes:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • staying hydrated
  • taking medications like Tylenol to help manage pain and fever

For severe illness, oxygen and antiviral drugs like remedesivir may be used.

General treatments for throat ulcers include:

  • antibiotics, antifungal medications, and antiviral drugs
  • pain-reducing medications
  • prescription mouthwash
  • medications to reduce the production of stomach acid
  • glucocorticoid therapy
  • surgery in severe cases

Infections often cause throat ulcers. You can minimize your chances for developing throat ulcers and other infections by regularly washing your hands and staying away from people who are sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends preventing COVID-19 infection by:

  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water
  • using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t readily available
  • staying six feet away from people outside your household
  • getting a COVID-19 vaccine once you’re eligible
  • avoiding crowded spaces and areas with poor ventilation

Case studies have reported mouth and throat ulcers in people with COVID-19. There’s evidence that in many cases, ulcers form due to a secondary infection resulting from a compromised immune system.

COVID-19 most often causes symptoms such as a fever, cough, and tiredness. Experiencing ulcers without flu-like symptoms is unlikely to be a sign of COVID-19, but it can be in rare cases.

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you have COVID-19 or your ulcers have lasted for more than 2 weeks without getting any better.