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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Clinical and Histopathological Views of Morbilliform Rash After COVID-19 mRNA Vaccination Mimic Those in SARS-CoV-2 Virus Infection-Associated Cutaneous Manifestations. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8193963/
Clinical Care Quick Reference for COVID-19. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-care-quick-reference.html
COVID Toes, Rashes: How the Coronavirus Can Affect Your Skin. (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/coronavirus/covid-toes
Diagnosis of COVID-19 Using Skin Rashes. (2021). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjd.19914
Enanthem in Patients with COVID-19 and Skin Rash. (2020). https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/2768252
Morbilliform Rash: An Uncommon Herald of SARS-CoV-2. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7444743/
More Symptoms of Coronavirus: COVID Toes, Skin Rashes. (2021). https://myhealth.ucsd.edu/RelatedItems/6,757310
Symptoms of COVID-19. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html