Mysterious Spike of COVID Toes Baffles Scientists

Mystery

| LAST UPDATE 04/05/2022

By Hayden Katz
covid toes skin lesion
Mario Tama / Staff via Getty Images

In the past, many viral infections such as measles, chickenpox, and mononucleosis have had symptoms of rashes in many patients. Typically in the form of blisters, small bumps - or red patches on the skin around the body - doctors have said this happens as the body's immune systems attempts to fight the virus-damaged skin cells. But now, scientists are stumped at explaining a new set of COVID symptoms that causes an unknown skin condition on people's toes. Here's what they know so far.

The skin lesions that have been appearing at the bottom of the foot are known as chilblains. Since the start of the virus back in 2020, dermatologists reported seeing a surplus in the number of patients complaining of swollen and discolored toes. Lisa Arkin, a skin doctor said, "My urgent clinics—either telemedicine or in-person—were suddenly filled with patients with purple toes, complaining about swelling, blistering, discomfort, and pain," she added. "I was completely shocked." 

covid symptoms toes chilblains
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Chilblains usually begin with itchy and burning feelings on the skin. As time moves on, discoloration starts occurring. Luckily, after a few weeks, it may go away without medication, but some may continue seeing the lesions even months later. "At its most mild, people complain of it being like a mild itch," Esther Freeman, a dermatologist and epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, explained. "At its most severe, it's so painful that some patients can't put their shoes on for a couple of weeks." Doctors began wondering if the increase of skin lesions was somehow related to COVID 19. And as it turns out, they are related to one another. But it's not just chilblains.

Apparently, there are many skin conditions that have appeared thanks to the spreading virus. Patients who came in complaining of the problem were said to have been tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks prior but reported to have experienced mild to no symptoms, including cough, fever, and muscle pain. Yet many questions arose when doctors learned that there were still many other patients who never tested positive for COVID-19, leaving scientists even more puzzled. More so, a few studies have found virus particles in the skin biopsies results from those suffering from what has been referred to as COVID toes. Yet still, there is not enough research done to prove the connection. "That's what has made it so hard and confusing to be able to say if it is COVID associated," confessed Arkin, a dermatologist from the University of Madison-Wisoncon. But, there's not much to worry about. "COVID toes are almost too much of a good thing," said Freeman. "Your body did a pretty good job of fighting off the virus."

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