Dermatologists all across the world are collecting data and warning their patients about potential overlooked symptoms for Covid-19 that relate to our skin. The two main conditions they’re warning about are skin rashes/irritation and “pseudo-frostbite,” which is what occurs when a person is experiencing all the symptoms of frostbite without actually being exposed to a cold environment.
Dermatologists and skin experts alike began looking into these symptoms because many viral illnesses, such as the chickenpox or mono, are often accompanied by specific skin rashes as a result of the body’s heightened inflammatory response which occurs to fight off the infection. While there hasn’t been a ton of research put into skin irritation and its relation to the Covid-19 virus, some patients have exhibited symptoms on their skin. ‘
One expert recently wrote a piece for the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, and described the skin conditions of 22 patients who were suffering from the coronavirus and skin irritations in Italy. The patients all had a red rash on their torsos, while a few of them developed hives that looked like chickenpox.
In another statement issued and signed by over 400 dermatologists in France, experts emphasized that almost all of the Covid-19 patients that they’ve seen had some sort of hive, red-rash, or frostbite-like lesions on their bodies. The dermatologists described the rashes to be a “rare but specific Covid-19-associated skin manifestation.”
This skin-manifestation is what experts are referring to as “pseudo-frostbite” or “Covid toes” as it mainly has been appearing in patients’ toes. There have been over 100 cases of the condition reported in the US, according to the Covid-19 symptom registry kept by the American Academy of Dermatology. Within these cases patients have been described to have “purple, bruise-like bumps and swelling” on their toes and other extremities.
“I’ve seen all of the [skin] conditions among suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in New York City, and found the range of possible symptoms to be remarkable. For a virus to do all of these things that it’s doing within the first five months of existing in humans is pretty striking to me. Patients who end up hospitalized often develop a pink, itchy rash across their torso and limbs, while others develop hives or, less commonly, a chickenpox-like rash,” said Dr. Alisa Femia, director of inpatient dermatology and a specialist in autoimmune connective tissue disease at NYU Langone.
Femia went on to discuss how it’s difficult for health care workers to determine if these rashes are actually related to the virus itself, or more so related to the medications being used to help treat the virus. If that’s the case, these skin irritations are a side-effect, not a symptom, which would be an extremely important distinction to make.
Individuals who have also experienced “Covid toes” haven’t experienced any other symptoms for the virus, which as a result denied them the opportunity to get tested, making it even more difficult to determine what’s causing these irritations and rashes. The biggest concern, according to Femia, is determining if these conditions are the result of a blood-flow issue brought on by the coronavirus. If that’s the case, experts need to know sooner than later, as small blood clots within the skin could mean there are other blood clots within the body that we can’t see, which can lead to even more serious issues.
Other dermatologists are hoping to use these inflammatory responses to help find a drug treatment for Covid-19. Some experts are studying the way that traditional anti-inflammatory medicines/topicals not only combat these virus-related skin conditions, but the virus itself. Only time will tell how related these symptoms are to the virus, but for now, like with every other aspect of this pandemic, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.