What Is a COVID-19 Rash?

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
October 12, 2021

COVID-19 can cause many unpleasant symptoms, most commonly fever, chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, and nasal congestion.

But there are also less common symptoms of COVID-19, including a rash on the body, toes, hands, and even in the mouth. 

In this article, I’ll describe the types of rashes associated with COVID-19 and their causes.

I’ll also cover the most effective way to diagnose a skin reaction as COVID-19 and the treatment options available.

Finally, I’ll explain when you should see a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

Connection Between Rash and COVID-19

Like measles, herpes, and chickenpox, a COVID-19 infection can cause some people to develop a temporary skin rash.

Additionally, vaccines for COVID-19 may also lead to a skin rash. In either case, these rashes can cause itchiness, discomfort, and poor sleep and can appear anywhere on the skin, including the fingers, toes, mouth, and tongue.

It’s unclear what causes this reaction and why some individuals but not others develop the rashes.

Thankfully, whether caused by the COVID-19 virus or a vaccine, the skin rashes usually clear up on their own within 1-2 weeks. 

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Symptom of COVID-19

Since the emergence of COVID-19 in March 2020, there have been reports from multiple countries of people experiencing a skin rash as one of their noticeable symptoms of the virus.

In some cases, rash is the only symptom of infection

One study from the UK of more than 300,000 people found that 9% of people who self-reported a positive COVID-19 test also experienced a skin rash, compared to 5% of those with a negative test result.

However, it’s unclear exactly what percentage of people who contract COVID-19 also develop a rash. 

Reports show that a rash can develop in both mild and severe cases of COVID-19 and in both adults and children.

In all reported cases of skin rash as a symptom of COVID-19, the rash is a temporary development that usually resolves within 1-2 weeks.

COVID-19 vaccine reaction

Some evidence suggests that it’s possible to develop a temporary skin rash after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

In this case, the rash is similar to ones that develop as a result of COVID-19 infection.

And while it can be itchy and uncomfortable, the rash is temporary and usually resolves within several weeks.

Types of Rashes from COVID-19

The type, appearance, and experience of a COVID-19 rash can vary greatly.  

COVID toes and fingers

One type of COVID-19 rash is also referred to as “COVID toes” and “COVID fingers”.

Experts believe that COVID toes and fingers may occur in response to inflammation of the circulatory system. 

This type of rash can appear as frostbite-like patches or skin lesions on the toes, fingers, or both.

These patches may appear discolored or swollen and can cause pain, itching, blisters, or raised bumps on the skin.

In some cases, the first sign of COVID toes or fingers is a purple skin discoloration on the toes or fingers. 

Thankfully, these rashes are far less serious than actual frostbite and will resolve without treatment.

However, hydrocortisone cream applied to the affected area can help to reduce pain or itching, though it will not necessarily decrease the duration of the rash. 

Oral rash

Another form of COVID-19 rash is an oral rash, or a rash located inside the mouth.

One small study conducted by researchers at Ramon y Cajal University Hospital in Madrid noted a few patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who developed rash-like lesions inside their mouth. 

Other types

Other types of rash have been recorded with COVID-19 infection, including: 

  • Urticaria, an itchy, hive-type rash sometimes referred to as nettle rash
  • Chickenpox-type rash, often appearing as small patches of red bumps
  • Light-sensitive rash
  • Vasculitis rash (which causes purplish-red dots), seen in more severe cases of COVID-19
  • Reddish and purplish rashes 

Causes of Rashes from COVID-19

At this point, it’s unclear what causes skin rashes from a COVID-19 infection or vaccine, although scientists continue to research this phenomenon.

However, it’s important to note that an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine can also cause a rash and is an allergic response to a known ingredient in the vaccine. 

Diagnosing a Rash as COVID-19

If you notice a new rash similar to the types described above either alone or combined with other common COVID-19 symptoms, reach out to your provider.

Though the development of a new rash isn’t necessarily indicative of a COVID-19 infection, scheduling an appointment with your primary care practitioner or dermatologist will help determine the best next steps.

Getting tested

Ultimately, the only way to confirm whether or not you have a COVID-19 rash is by getting tested for COVID-19.

However, that doesn’t mean that you need to get tested every time you notice a new rash developing.

To determine whether or not you should get tested, reach out to your healthcare provider. In the meantime, taking extra precautions such as staying home, self-isolating, and wearing masks in public can help keep you and others safe.

How to Treat a Rash from COVID-19

Most COVID-19 rashes will resolve on their own within a few weeks.

However, if you’re experiencing pain or itching, some over-the-counter (OTC) creams and ointments may help to soothe your symptoms.

Talk with your provider about whether hydrocortisone or another OTC medication will work for you.

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When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the following severe symptoms of COVID-19, seek urgent care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent chest pain and/or pressure 
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin (depending on skin tone) 

Other severe symptoms that may be unrelated to COVID-19 but could be related to a rash include:

  • Pus drainage
  • Rash that changes color, size, or shape quickly

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or dermatologist.

How K Health Can Help

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How common are rashes from COVID-19?
Unfortunately, experts don’t know how common COVID-19 rashes are. Though they’re not as common as some other symptoms, including fever, chest pain, and cough, anywhere between 1-8% of people infected with COVID-19 may develop a rash.
When will a skin rash appear from COVID-19?
A COVID-19 rash can appear anywhere between 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
What should I do if the COVID-19 vaccine gives me a rash?
Most COVID-19 rashes resolve on their own within a few weeks. If you’re experiencing itching or pain, talk to your doctor about which over-the-counter cream or ointment may help.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.