COVID Toe: What Is This Coronavirus Symptom?

COVID Toe: What Is This Coronavirus Symptom?


The Coronavirus has dramatically changed the lives of so many of us to date. From school closures and Zoom office meetings to mask-wearing and social distancing, since March of 2020 life has looked a lot different for a large chunk of the population.

Nevertheless, the people that have been most affected by COVID-19 have been those who have contracted (or who have had a loved one who has contracted) the virus itself.

COVID-19 is a rapidly spreading respiratory illness that is less contagious than measles (one of the most contagious viruses known to affect human beings) but significantly more contagious than influenza.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary in intensity and presentation but are primarily characterized by a loss of taste and/or smell, cough, fever, fatigue, headache, sore throat, congestion, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and body aches among other types of symptoms that run a wide gamut.

In many instances, this disease that has infected roughly 106 million people worldwide and killed nearly 2.32 million is still an unpredictable and ever-changing conundrum to scientists and healthcare professionals.

As cases increase and more people are tested, we continue to see a parallel increase in bizarre long-term effects and symptoms of the virus.

One such bizarre symptom of the coronavirus is COVID Toe.


What is COVID Toe?

COVID Toe is a recently understood phenomenon associated with a coronavirus infection.

Though not every individual diagnosed with COVID-19 will exhibit COVID toe, many podiatrists and dermatologists have reported an increase in this strange malady primarily in patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, even if many of the other classic symptoms are not actively present.

COVID toe consists of swollen, red, and purple rashes that cover the toe and can range from mild tenderness and itchiness to severe swelling and discomfort that may prevent a person from wearing shoes until the toes heal.

This aggravating condition resembles most closely “chilblains” or frostbite marks — no matter the weather during which the person comes down with corona.

Chilblains are characterized by the appearance of swollen patches of often painful or itchy red blotches on the skin of the fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, or even ears.

Most often, the appearance of chilblains is due to the body’s abnormal response to exposure to cold temperatures. The blood vessels in these sensitive areas mentioned above naturally constrict when exposed to cold and expand when reintroduced to warmth.

If this expansion happens too quickly, the blood vessels may leach blood into the surrounding skin and cause the red, rashy, swelling, and itchiness associated with chilblains.

Certain folks with certain conditions are more at risk of experiencing chilblains than others. Those with poor circulation, poor diet, low body weight, lupus, or a circulatory condition known as Raynaud’s syndrome are all more likely to experience chilblains in the cold.

If you are someone who falls under any of those categories, unfortunately, you may overlook one of the more unexpected symptoms of COVID-19.

However, again, a notable difference between chilblains and COVID toe is the fact that chilblains occur as a result of cold weather, but COVID toe can occur in any type of climate. Additionally, chilblains may be present in a variety of body parts, but – oddly enough – COVID toe has only been reported to affect (you guessed it) the toes and sometimes fingertips.

Because COVID toe resembles chilblains so closely if you find yourself experiencing odd bouts of chilblains in your toes (or fingers) you may want to consult a physician about getting tested for COVID.

Healthcare professionals are seeing increased dermatological responses to COVID-19, and in some cases, these odd rashes may be the only symptom a person gets from the virus.

But why are these bizarre rashes symptoms of a respiratory disorder? And why do they show up primarily on the toes?

Currently, scientists don’t have quite enough research to say for sure what the exact reason for COVID toe is, but there are certainly several good standing theories.


What Causes COVID Toe? 

Rashes associated with viral infections are not a particularly uncommon thing. Rashes can be one of the many ways that the body signifies that it is attempting to fight off a virus. Chickenpox, hepatitis, mono, and even strep throat in some cases may all make themselves known in the form of hives or rashes on a person’s body.

COVID-19 is keeping in line with some of its viral counterparts in that regard.

There are a lot of odd symptoms associated with coming down with the coronavirus – a loss of taste and or smell being one of the first telling oddballs in the mix.

And, it seems that this novel virus is not done throwing the global community curveballs.

COVID toe is not the only rash that people have reported in association with Coronavirus. Like the wide variety of respiratory symptoms that people report, many different varieties and variations of skin symptoms come with coronavirus.

These dermatological markers of COVID are usually characteristic of different levels of severity of the virus. For example, “retiforma purpura” – another skin rash associated with the coronavirus – is commonly only present in hospitalized patients with severe cases of COVID.

As far as COVID toe is concerned, this Corona rash is generally present in very mild forms of the virus.

A large number of patients who have experienced COVID toe have even tested negative for the virus via antibody testing and nasal swab testing even though the virus could be found in the blood vessels of their skin, sweat glands, and endothelial cells (cells on the inside walls of blood vessels).

Though this factor of COVID toe is easily agreed upon, other COVID toe associations are a little more muddied.

For one, it was originally assumed that COVID toe only affected children and adults, however further research and case reports have proven that wrong.

Any person in any age group can catch the COVID toe.

Additionally, it is not clear at what stage of infection exactly people experience COVID toe.

This bizarre symptom of the coronavirus does not always occur at the same stage of the virus. The majority of folks who have reported these COVID-19 “chilblains” experience them weeks (if not months) after going through the other symptoms of the virus.

Nevertheless, other people have reported COVID toe as the first (or sometimes only) symptom that points toward being infected with the coronavirus, and still others have dealt with corona digits while simultaneously going through other common symptoms of COVID-19.

Regardless of when it occurs, various biopsies have been taken of people who report the phenomenon, and viral cells have been found in the skin tissue associated with the reported whelps.

So, what about COVID-19 causes these chilblain-like rashes to occur?

The prevailing theory is that the condition is brought on as a result of how the coronavirus affects the endothelial cells (those cells on the walls of blood vessels that we mentioned earlier).

COVID-19 characteristically has an impact on the endothelial cells in the lungs if nowhere else. This, in part, contributes to the severity of the disease because it causes a swelling of the blood vessels in the lungs.

As a result, it seems (in many cases) COVID-19 may not be present in the lungs or respiratory system of those who suffer from COVID toe because – in the case of certain episodes of coronavirus infection – the virus does not centralize on the respiratory, and instead busies itself by burying into the linings of blood vessels within the skin (or manages to do both).

As far as why it seems to centralize on the toes – this is a question that remains to be adequately answered.


How To Get Relief From COVID Toes

Now that we have discussed what might be the cause of COVID toe, we can go over what kind of things those who are experiencing the symptoms can do to catch some relief for their puffy toes.

With traditional chilblains, the best way to improve the condition is to gradually warm your digits back up.

But, COVID toe is not traditional chilblains.

The itchy toes of Corona are not going to be fixed by heating your digits, and the effects of COVID toe lasts (on average) around 4 to 6 weeks and could last for up to six months regardless of the measures taken to control the malady.

The itching or burning of COVID toe generally only lasts a couple of weeks, and you may find some relief from the aching and agitation by applying topical hydrocortisone cream.

You mustn’t give in to the urge to scratch at your COVID toes as this can lead to further skin issues like flaking or infection.

No matter how you might design to get some relief from the pain of COVID toes, you must follow up with a qualified medical physician if you find yourself experiencing the symptoms of COVID toe.

For your safety and the safety of those around you, you should make sure to be tested and treated by a doctor if you find yourself coming down with any of the characteristic syndromes of the coronavirus.

The good news?

Folks who have come down with COVID toe have largely reported that their toes (eventually) return to normal, and (as of yet) no major long-term effects of COVID toe have been reported.


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