‘COVID Toes’ Are Now The Newest Symptom Of The Coronavirus, And It Mostly Appears In Children

'In the last week, I've probably seen five patients with it ... So there's something there,' said a dermatologist.

close-up of a child's foot
orange31 / Pixabay

'In the last week, I've probably seen five patients with it ... So there's something there,' said a dermatologist.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors are seeing a new symptom of the illness, and it mainly affects children, Yahoo! Life reports. They’re calling it “COVID Toes,” and the condition — which causes painful and discolored toes and feet — is a cousin of the much more common frostbite.

Dr. Amy Paller, chair of the Department of Dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says that her colleagues in the dermatology field are reporting an influx of patients showing a reddish-blue discoloration of the extremities. Sometimes, the patient’s toes will be itchy or painful to the touch, or may even develop painful red blisters.

Paller says that it’s showing up so often in dermatologists’ offices that she calls it a “mini epidemic.”

“We’re having a little bit of a mini epidemic… Every day I’m talking to another one of my colleagues who’s seeing a patient [with this condition],” Paller said.

What’s more, the condition is mostly showing up in children, particularly those over the age of 10.

As to why dermatologists are calling the condition “COVID toes,” it’s because the condition seems to be most prevalent in areas with a high concentration of patients sick with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.


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Specifically, reports of the condition appearing in children who otherwise were showing no other symptoms of COVID-19 first began emerging from Italy, the country that was, at the time, the hardest-hit by the pandemic. In the U.S., it’s showing up in children in Boston, which is itself dealing with a high concentration of coronavirus cases.

“It’s super interesting that we’re seeing many more cases of this over the last couple of weeks… that seems to be true in other areas of the country where COVID-19 is really raging or surging,” said dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Huang.

Health officials are putting two and two together, and are considering the possibility that the condition may be a sign that the child presenting with it has contracted COVID-19 but is otherwise asymptomatic.

a barefoot child
  Free-Photos / Pixabay

“We think that it is associated with COVID-19 and we think that they are either asymptomatic carriers… or that it could be part of a convalescent-phase where you [contract] COVID-19 and you’re developing these symptoms later… we’re trying to get [these children] tested,” Huang said.

Fortunately, the condition, which is officially called “pernio,” is at once relatively common and easily treatable. A relative of frostbite (indeed, the word “pernio” is Latin for “frostbite”), pernio is generally treated by keeping the extremities, such as toes and fingers, warm and covered. Blood pressure medicines that dilate the blood vessels can also be used to treat the condition.

As to why it seems to disproportionately affect children, it appears as if outdoor play in cold weather may be a factor. Dermatologists say that the children presenting with the condition had almost always played outside without shoes and socks prior to developing it. And although it’s not cold enough to cause frostbite in most areas of the country, it’s still cool in many places, such as Boston.