What Are COVID Toes?

You probably know that COVID-19 can bring on symptoms like a cough, fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Could it also be linked to swollen and discolored toes?

Some medical groups and researchers say it can, and the condition has been dubbed “COVID toes.” Other scientists say early research suggests that there isn’t a connection between the coronavirus and this skin problem.

Either way, the condition can show up on your toes, fingers, or both. Most people get it only on their toes, which is how it got its name.

Here’s what you need to know, including COVID toes symptoms, treatments, and more.

What Causes COVID Toes?

That’s unclear for now. These skin changes have shown up in people who’ve tested negative for COVID, and in people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus.

One small study, which suggests there’s a close relationship between COVID toes and COVID-19, says that the toe condition might stem from your immune system mounting “a strong antiviral” response to the coronavirus.

What Are the Symptoms of COVID Toes?

The skin on one or more of your toes or fingers may swell up and look bright red, then gradually turn purple. Skin of color can look swollen and purple, and brownish-purple spots may appear.

Lots of people don’t feel anything, and they only notice these changes when looking at their toes or fingers.

But along with swollen, discolored skin, it’s also possible to have:

Some people also notice a bit of pus under their skin.

Who Gets COVID Toes?

The condition can show up at any age, but you may be more likely to get it if you’re a child, teen, or a young adult. The American Academy of Dermatology says that young patients with COVID toes seem healthy, and many of them don’t get more common symptoms of the virus. Those who do have symptoms of COVID-19 tend to have mild signs.

Are COVID Toes Contagious?

Research into this question is still early, so experts don’t know the answer yet. Of course, COVID is contagious. But just because one person has COVID and COVID toes doesn’t mean that if they pass the virus to someone else, that person will also get COVID toes.

If you think you have COVID toes or any symptoms of the coronavirus, stay home, call your doctor right away, and ask if you should get tested for COVID. This is extra important if you haven’t gotten the COVID vaccine, or if you live with people who haven’t gotten it.

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What’s the Treatment for COVID Toes?

COVID toes will go away on their own. But you may treat the symptoms of COVID toes if they bother you.

You can use a hydrocortisone cream to ease pain or itching. If that doesn’t help or if your toes or fingers get worse, call a board-certified dermatologist or your doctor.

How Long Does COVID Toes Last?

Experts aren’t sure yet how long most people have this condition. At least one expert thinks it may last about 10 to 14 days. Another says 2 to 6 weeks. Some people reportedly have COVID toes for months.

Is It COVID Toes or Something Else?

A cold-weather condition called chilblains may look similar to COVID toes. It can bring on swollen and discolored toes or fingers. It’s possible to get chilblains if you stand on wet, cool ground and catch a chill. It’s different from frostbite, which happens when your skin freezes.

Chilblains can make your skin:

  • Burn and itch
  • Become swollen
  • Turn red or dark blue

Severe chilblains can cause blisters or sores.

How Else Might COVID Affect Your Skin?

Skin changes linked to COVID-19 are less common than the main signs that the virus can bring on, like coughing, fever, chills, and trouble breathing. But the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says some people who have the coronavirus get different types of skin issues, like:

  • A patchy rash
  • Bumps that itch
  • Blisters that look similar to chickenpox
  • Tiny, round spots on your skin
  • A big patch with several smaller ones
  • A lace-like pattern on your skin
  • Raised bumps and flat spots that merge together

Conditions other than COVID-19 can cause symptoms like these, so call your doctor or a dermatologist. They can figure out what’s going on with you and help get you the right treatment.

If you have a rash or COVID toes and a test shows you have the coronavirus, you can help experts study the link between the conditions. Ask your doctor to send information to the AAD’s COVID-19 registry. You might end up helping other people.

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Which COVID Symptoms Are Less Common?

Along with skin issues tied to COVID, some less-common symptoms of the virus are:

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Loss of smell or taste (without nasal congestion)
  • Severe confusion, especially in older people
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis), which can make one or both eyes red and swollen, sometimes with a sticky discharge

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms and you’re concerned you might have COVID-19. If you get a COVID test, stay at home and wear a mask around others while you wait for the results.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 11, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

British Journal of Dermatology: “Type I interferon response and vascular alteration in chilblain-like lesions during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

JAMA Network Open: “Bilateral Chilblain-like Lesions of the Toes Characterized by Microvascular Remodeling in Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Medscape: “'COVID Toes' Chilblain-like Lesions Not Related to COVID-19.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Covid Toes, Rashes: How the Coronavirus Can Affect Your Skin.”

Mayo Clinic: “Unusual coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms: What are they?”

UpToDate: “COVID-19: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis in children.”

CDC: “Symptoms of COVID-19.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Conjunctivitis: What Is Pink Eye?”

Photo Credit: Chris Curry / Getty Images

 

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