Health & Wellness

Are ‘COVID Toes’ a New Sign of Coronavirus?

Doctors are investigating reports of COVID-19 patients with sudden painful bumps on their feet and hands. Here’s what you should know.

Are ‘COVID Toes’ a New Sign of Coronavirus?

Photo credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

By 

Laura Worcester,   

Apr 23, 2020 • 3 min read

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By now you’ve likely memorized the classic list of common coronavirus symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. But COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, and as more people experience the illness, the more we learn about other possible symptoms. 

Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially added new loss of taste or smell as symptoms of the virus—a validation of mounting concerns around the world. Now some doctors have turned their attention to a peculiar dermatological condition casually referred to as “COVID toes,” suggesting a new possible link to the virus.

What are “COVID toes”?

So far, all explanations and evidence from the medical community are still anecdotal. In a news release from Northwestern Medicine, dermatologist Amy Paller, MD, noted a resemblance to pernio (also known as chilblains), a skin condition that presents as red, purple, or blue lesions on the feet and hands. “The condition we’re seeing can look just like pernio, but often varies from being bright red to purple, and not uncommonly affects broader areas of the toes. Sometimes the bottom of the feet has circles of discoloration–and the fingers occasionally show similar discoloration. Sometimes the feet are itchy, sometimes painful, sometimes without any symptoms.”  

Ebbing Lautenbach, chief of infectious disease at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, told USA Today that this skin condition could be an early sign of infection, appearing in patients who are exhibiting no other symptoms. Lautenbach said, “This is a manifestation that occurs early on in the disease, meaning you have this first, then you progress.” Sometimes the condition goes away in fewer than ten days, he added, and sometimes it’s followed by other symptoms. 

Though Lautenbach says “nobody knows” what causes “COVID toes,” the doctor suggested two possible explanations: that the lesions are an inflammatory response to the virus, or that they could be caused by blood clots, which sometimes occur in COVID-19 patients.

How common are “COVID toes”?

Lack of widespread testing makes it hard to tell right now. “What we are seeing tends to be in response to the cold, but we’re seeing it in the middle of spring,” Paller told ABC News. “And it’s happening in such numbers as is COVID that we have to think there’s a connection.”

Last week, to help further define COVID-19 skin findings, the American Academy of Dermatology COVID-19 task force created an online international registry for healthcare workers and physicians to document cases where patients “develop dermatologic manifestations” of the infection. Esther Freeman, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and member of the task force, told ABC News that about 130 cases have been submitted to the registry so far.

According to Lautenbach, “COVID toes” are more prevalent in children and young adults, which the doctor suggests is due to their stronger immune systems. Lindy Fox, professor of dermatology at University of California, San Francisco, told Today that based on the current reports, the condition seems more common in children and young people, but it's not exclusive to them.

Can you treat “COVID toes”?

“COVID toes” typically resolve as the infection clears with no treatment necessary, says Fox. If very painful, topical corticosteroids or aspirin have been used anecdotally to improve the skin lesions more quickly, she added. As always, if you notice this new symptom, or any other COVID-19-related symptoms, it's best to call your doctor regarding next steps for diagnosis and treatment. Should you get prescribed a new medication, check to see if you can get your prescription for less and shipped free to your home with Blink Health.

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This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.

Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.

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