COVID-19 Toes Symptoms
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID toe is a rare COVID-19 symptom that causes discolored and swollen toes
- There’s not a clear consensus on what causes COVID toes, but it’s believed to be a reaction to the virus or the body’s own immune response
- Pain medications, antihistamines, hydrocortisone cream, and cool compresses can all provide relief for COVID toe symptoms
- Most cases of COVID toes tend to resolve themselves without treatment after 10-14 days
COVID toes symptoms are a rare skin condition that has been linked to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. This condition is characterized by the appearance of red or purplish toes that can be swollen and cause pain or even numbness in the toes.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding COVID toes. In this article, we delve into what are “COVID toes,” why this condition happens, how long can it last, and how to treat it.
What causes COVID toes symptoms?
There’s a lot of debate among the medical community regarding what causes COVID toes. Early on, some health professionals noted that the pattern of inflammation on the toes is similar to another condition called chilblains, a painful inflammation of small blood vessels that most often affect the body’s extremities, such as the toes and fingers. This condition often arises during cold weather, and some practitioners believed that COVID toes symptoms were a result of people being home during a lockdown and not wearing shoes and socks. 1
More recent studies have made researchers believe that our immune system's response to the virus may play a role in developing COVID toes. As the body attacks the virus, it may cause inflammation which appears on the toes. 2
Another factor that may contribute to developing COVID toes is underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or peripheral artery disease (PAD). Individuals with these conditions may have compromised circulation, making them more susceptible to developing COVID toes. Additionally, individuals who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 may have experienced a lack of mobility, which can also increase the risk of developing COVID toes.
Of course, with no definitive evidence, some researchers say that COVID toes can be caused by a combination of all these factors.
What does COVID toe look like?
The swelling and discoloration of COVID toes can start on 1 or multiple toes. The initial appearance can be a vivid red hue, gradually turning purple. In some cases, the toes may also be purplish from the outset. They may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- Dry or rough skin
The affected area may be warm to the touch and may feel tender or sore. Other COVID patients have described numbness in toes. In severe cases, COVID toes may make it difficult to walk or stand.
How long do COVID toe symptoms last?
While COVID toes go away without treatment, it’s still too soon to know how long most people have the condition. Some patients have reported that their COVID toes symptoms lasted 10-14 days, while others had COVID toes for months.
Who develops COVID toe?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, COVID toes can affect individuals of any age. However, the condition is most prevalent in children, teenagers and young adults. These patients are typically in good health and often do not display the more typical symptoms of COVID-19, such as dry cough, fever, and muscle aches. In cases where they do exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, the symptoms are usually mild. 3
Treatment options for COVID toes
COVID toes treatment will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. If the condition is caused by the virus, the best way to treat it is to manage the COVID-19 symptoms and allow the body to heal itself. This may include:
- Pain relievers to help manage pain and reduce swelling
- Antihistamines to manage the itchiness
- Elevating the foot
- Cold compresses to help reduce inflammation
- Wearing comfortable shoes that do not constrict the feet
In severe cases, individuals with COVID toes may need to seek medical attention to prevent the condition from worsening. In one clinical study, doctors treated a case of COVID toe with cilostazol, a drug that relaxes blood vessels and helps prevent platelets from sticking together. 4
If the condition is caused by an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or PAD, it’s important to manage the underlying condition to prevent further complications. This may include:
- Taking medication
- Making lifestyle changes
- Undergoing treatment to improve circulation
Wrapping it up
COVID toes are a skin condition that can occur in individuals infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This condition is characterized by the appearance of discolored, swollen, and painful toes and feet and can be caused by a combination of factors, including the virus itself, the immune system's response to the virus, and underlying health conditions.
Treatment options for COVID toes will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition and may include managing COVID-19 symptoms, or underlying health conditions, and seeking medical attention in severe cases.
By understanding the causes and treatment options for COVID toes, individuals can take steps to prevent and manage this condition and protect their health.
Q: Are COVID toes symptoms dangerous?
A: There’s no evidence that this symptom could be deadly, but it should not be ignored. It may indicate a weakened immune system or other underlying health issues that can lead to serious medical complications if left untreated. It’s best to consult a doctor immediately if you experience any unusual changes in your foot skin or start developing unexplained rashes on your feet.
Q: What are the common signs and symptoms of COVID toes?
A: The most common symptom associated with COVID toes is red or purple lesions on the toes, usually on the sides or tips. These lesions can range from small bumps to larger and painful blisters, usually accompanied by itching and/or burning sensations and even numbness in toes. In more serious cases, swelling of the feet may occur as well.
Q: How long do COVID toes take to heal?
A: The healing process varies from person to person, depending on the severity of their condition. Generally speaking, most people can expect it to take 1 to 2 weeks. In rare cases, COVID toe can persist for months.
Q: What should I do if I develop symptoms of COVID toes?
A: If you start developing any signs or symptoms of COVID toes, it’s crucial that you seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor can provide further guidance and treatment options to help alleviate your symptoms.
Q: Are there any treatments available for COVID toes?
A: Treatment for this symptom usually involves topical creams to reduce inflammation and discomfort, as well as lifestyle changes such as avoiding tight-fitting shoes and managing your stress levels. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may also recommend taking pain relievers or other medications.
Q: Are COVID toes contagious?
A: The coronavirus still holds many unknowns, including the contagiousness of those with COVID toes. Of course, those who have tested positive for COVID are contagious.
Nature (2022). [“Are ‘COVID toes’ actually caused by the coronavirus?“]. Accessed on 8 February 2023.
British Journal of Dermatology (2021). [“Type I interferon response and vascular alteration in chilblain-like lesions during the COVID-19 outbreak”]. Accessed on 8 February 2023.
American Academy of Dermatology (2021). [“COVID Toes, Rashes: How The Coronavirus Can Affect Your Skin”]. Accessed on 8 February 2023.
National Library of Medicine (2022). [“Cilostazol as a Treatment for COVID Toes: A Case Report”]. Accessed on 8 February 2023.