COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the world, and as cases continue to rise, so does our understanding of the virus. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned of many complications related to COVID, such as long COVID and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Many of these complications are being studied extensively, and are fairly well-known among the general population. However, a particularly unusual symptom of COVID-19 has recently been reported by numerous health officials. Nicknamed “COVID toes,” this condition seems to affect younger people more than older ones, and often appears in the absence of other symptoms.
Here’s everything you need to know about COVID toes, along with how you can spot the signs and what treatments are available.
What Are COVID Toes?
As the name would suggest, COVID toes is a condition caused by COVID-19 that affects the feet and toes. The condition closely resembles a common inflammatory condition known as pernio, which causes one or more of the toes to turn red, swell up, and in some cases blister.
COVID toes cause very similar symptoms as pernio. Over several days, the condition can cause the skin to redden, sometimes even turning a dark purplish color. In more severe cases of COVID toes, the skin may blister and spread to the rest of the foot.
Unlike pernio, COVID toes may also cause swelling, discoloration, and blistering in the fingers and hands. Sometimes the condition may appear as a small bulb, while in other cases it may appear as whitish sores.
Whatever the case, people with COVID toes report painful itching sensations in their toes and feet. Oftentimes, this pain becomes so severe that they cannot wear shoes or socks.
Who Gets COVID Toes?
As previously mentioned, COVID toes seem to affect younger people rather than older ones. Additionally, COVID toes only affect a small percentage of people with COVID-19. In a recent study conducted in Italy, about 20% of people with COVID experienced symptoms of COVID toes.
Another study, conducted by researchers in China, found that only 0.2% of people with COVID reported having symptoms of COVID toes.
More recent data of COVID toes and other related skin conditions found that they were significant enough to launch registries to collect information about the number of people experiencing COVID toes and other skin symptoms associated with COVID-19.
One of the most peculiar aspects of this condition is that people who have never tested positive for COVID-19 experience COVID toes. Moreover, a significant number of people with COVID toes never experience any other symptoms of COVID-19.
Research shows that some people have reported COVID toes as late as several weeks after testing positive, while others report the condition lasting only a few days.
Currently, the consensus is that while COVID toes may be associated with COVID-19, they may not be caused by it. The leading theory is that the inflammatory response caused by the infection may be to blame for swelling in the toes and feet.
Other Skin Conditions Related to COVID-19
Along with COVID toes, several other skin conditions have been associated with COVID-19. Many viral infections, including COVID-19, can cause skin-related issues. Researchers from around the world have documented these various skin conditions since the beginning of the pandemic.
That said, it can be difficult to determine whether a skin condition is a symptom of COVID, part of your body’s immune response, or a reaction to a drug or vaccine being used to treat COVID. Below are some common skin conditions that have been reported in people being treated for COVID-19:
- Hives: Some people who have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 also had raised, red bumps that look like welts. These are known as hives, and typically appear on the trunk or limbs, and are often itchy.
- Petechiae: Petechiae are pinpoint, round spots that appear on the skin as a result of bleeding.
- Livedo Reticularis: This skin condition causes purple or red mottled skin. Oftentimes, it can appear as if a net has been cast over parts of the body.
- Morbilliform Rash: This type of rash causes widespread raised red speckles on the body.
- Chickenpox-Like Rash: While rare, researchers from Italy have reported 22 patients with small, fluid-filled eruptions across the skin. While these closely resemble chickenpox, they do not appear to be the same.
- Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C): Health officials have reported that some children with COVID-19 experience the skin condition known as MIS-C. Common symptoms of MIS-c include widespread rash, fever, and swelling of the hands and feet.
It’s important to note that while these skin conditions may occur alongside COVID-19, they may not be directly caused by the virus.
How Are COVID Toes Treated?
If you notice any of the symptoms of COVID toes, consult your doctor or primary physician to make sure it isn’t a different skin condition that may need to be treated differently.
In most cases, people with COVID toes need no additional treatment. Typically, the redness and swelling in the toes and feet resolve on their own within a few weeks.
While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have not listed COVID toes as an official symptom of COVID-19, researchers recommend that you get tested if you have this skin symptom. It’s common for people with COVID toes to not only be contagious but have no other symptoms.
That said, it’s important to understand the other symptoms of COVID. This can help you get tested quickly if you believe you are sick.
Other Symptoms of COVID-19
The CDC regularly updates its list of COVID-19 symptoms. Some of the most common include:
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Tiredness or extreme fatigue
- Body aches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Loss of taste or smell
If you believe you have COVID-19, or if you are experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms, it’s important to follow the necessary precautions. After you’ve taken note of your symptoms, get tested as soon as you can. If you receive a positive test, quarantine for the recommended amount of time, and ensure you wear a mask when around others.
COVID toes is a painful, fairly common condition among younger people with COVID-19. The most common symptoms include redness or swelling in the toes and feet. In some cases, the condition can spread to the fingers and hands. For many people with COVID toes, the condition appears in the absence of any other symptoms.
If you notice that your toes or feet suddenly swell or become red, it may be a good idea to talk with your doctor. They may recommend that you get tested for COVID-19 since you may be contagious or at risk of spreading the virus to others.
The good news is that, for most people, COVID toes will clear within a few weeks of infection. As always, if you have not done so already, it’s important to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination remains the best way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death as a result of COVID-19. For more information about COVID-19, vaccines, or current guidelines, visit the CDC’s website to stay up to date on all things COVID-19.
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