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Health Fusion: COVID toes are a real thing

COVID toes have popped up in the media a lot after researchers confirmed the condition exists. And when a famous quarterback said he had them. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams gets the details about COVID toes -- what they are, why they develop and how to treat them -- from a Mayo Clinic dermatologist.

Many viruses may cause skin rashes and the virus that causes COVID-19 is no different. COVID toes has become the nickname for a red, purple and sometimes painful rash that can appear on your toes or fingers. A recent paper about the association between the rash and COVID plus media coverage prompted a lot of people to ask questions about the condition.

It's a rash that can look like chilblains, which can happen to your skin after exposure to extreme cold. But the cause of COVID toes is different.

"COVID toes are a like a plumbing problem," says Dr. Dawn Davis , a Mayo Clinic dermatologist. "When you get an infection (such as COVID-19), it's not uncommon for the immune system to have a robust response to try to attack the organism that's causing the infection. When that occurs, there's inflammation circulating through the blood stream with the immune system."

Since blood vessels in the fingers and toes are small, Dr. Davis says the inflammation may cause congestion in them. The vessels themselves may become inflamed and there may be leakage of blood, which causes the redness.

Young people may be more likely to develop COVID toes for several reasons, including that their immune systems are vigorous, and ...

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"... young people may have more activities that expose them to more trauma or exposure to cold," says Davis.

Dr. Davis adds that COVID toes are not contagious. You might get them even if you don't have symptoms of COVID.

"If you notice COVID fingers or toes and you don't feel sick, a judicious thing to do would be to contact your healthcare provider to see if you should be screened for coronavirus," says Dr. Davis.

COVID fingers or toes may be painful. Dr. Davis says home remedies include:

  • Gentle warming of the hands and feet with gloves, socks or warming pads. Do not use anything that is hot
  • Elevate extremities when sitting or lying down
  • Pain control that doesn't cause bleeding, such as acetaminophen
  • Topical and systemic prescription medication

Dr. Davis says cortisone cream does not help with the vascular changes that cause COVID toes. But if the condition has triggered a flare of an underlying skin condition, such as psoriasis or eczema, cortisone cream may help calm it.
Follow the Health Fusion podcast on Apple , Spotify , and Google Podcasts.

For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at vwilliams@newsmd.com . Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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