Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for COVID-19 Rash

Published December 29th, 2021 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

What is COVID-19 | Symptoms of COVID-19 | COVID-19 Rash | Causes | Diagnosis | Treatment

COVID-19 is a virus that can affect people of any age. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is transmitted from person to person through contact with bodily fluids or from objects contaminated with COVID-19. The COVID-19 virus can affect the immune system and cause it to react abnormally and can sometimes lead to a less common symptom: an outbreak on your skin that becomes a rash. When this reaction occurs and is combined with other physical side effects of COVID-19 like fever, headache, sore throat, nausea, and vomiting then you may be diagnosed as having COVID-19 rash. Treatment for COVID-19 includes bed rest and hydration to help you get better faster, while the rash will have other treatment options which we will detail below.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019, is a novel coronavirus that was first identified in 2019. COVID-19 is similar to other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, which can cause severe respiratory illness. It was first detected in Wuhan, China, in 2019 and has since become a global pandemic.

A coronavirus is a virus that is typical for causing respiratory illness, such as the common cold. Just like other coronaviruses, COVID-19 can infect cells that line the upper part of your airways and lungs, for example, the nasal cavity, throat, and trachea. The virus then moves to deeper parts of your lungs where it multiplies and spreads throughout your body.

The coronavirus is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, or blood from an infected person. The virus can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs, door handles, countertops, and other surfaces.

What makes COVID-19 so deadly is that in severe cases, it can cause respiratory complications like pneumonia. Most coronaviruses are not associated with causing pneumonia because they only infect the upper respiratory system where bacteria usually live, not deep in your lungs like COVID-19. The virus also does not need to be present for long periods of time to cause infections or death as it has an incubation period as short as two days.

If you are generally healthy and have a strong immune system, you may only experience mild covid-19 symptoms, such as a runny nose, muscle aches, fatigue, or cough. However, you may be at greater risk of severe symptoms if you have: 

  • Heart or lung conditions
  • Obesity 
  • Diabetes 
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Age

It should be noted that people of any age can die from this disease although it affects certain age groups more than others.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person. In general, the common symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the symptoms of other respiratory viral infections, such as the common cold or flu.

Some people with COVID-19 may experience mild symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough. Others may experience more severe respiratory illnesses, such as fever, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

In some cases, people with COVID-19 may also have skin manifestations that develop into a rash. The rash can be itchy and often appears on the face, arms, torso, or legs. It can also spread to other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms of a COVID-19 rash?

The symptoms of a COVID-19 rash can vary from person to person. In general, the symptoms of a COVID-19 rash are similar to the symptoms of other rashes, such as hives or eczema. Some people with a COVID-19 rash may experience redness, swelling, and itching of the skin. The COVID-19 rash can take on several forms which we will discuss each different type of rash in detail below.

Hives

The rash can also appear as fluid-filled bumps that are surrounded by a brighter area with no color, these are called hives. The hives can appear anywhere on the body as bumpy rashes and typically last less than 24 hours.

Macules and papules

Another common form of the COVID-19 rash is macules and papules. Macules are flat, red spots that do not blanch when you press on them. Papules are small, raised bumps that also do not blanch when you press on them. Both macules and papules can be itchy and last for several days.

Erythema multiforme or blisters

The most severe form of the COVID-19 rash is called erythema multiforme. This rash is characterized by red, inflamed lesions on the skin that often develop a blistering center.

Lace pattern

The rash can also appear as a distinctive rash of lace-like pattern on the skin with discolored rings.

Small pinpoint spots

Another rare form of the COVID-19 rash appears as small, dark, pinpoint spots usually on the legs.

Toe rash or COVID toes

The rash may also appear on the toes, resembling tiny blisters. This is called COVID-19 toes or toe rash. These rashes can be itchy, painful, and have a burning sensation similar to athlete's foot.

What causes a COVID-19 rash?

It is unknown what specifically causes the COVID-19 rash besides the fact the patients all have a COVID-19 infection. Some possibilities for why it can cause a rash include an allergic reaction to the virus, a response from the immune system, or damage done to the skin by the virus.

How do you diagnose a COVID-19 rash?

The diagnosis of a COVID-19 rash is often made by exclusion. This means that your doctor will first rule out other causes of the rash, such as an allergic reaction, hives, eczema, or athlete's foot.

To do this, your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. Your doctor may also do a physical exam and order lab tests to help rule out other causes of the rash.

How do you treat a COVID-19 rash?

The treatment for a COVID-19 rash will vary depending on your symptoms. In general, however, most skin rashes can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and steroid creams. Other methods include an oatmeal bath to soothe the skin, placing cold compresses on the area to stop the itching and burning, and not scratching the area.

What if I am vaccinated? Can I still get a COVID-19 rash?

Yes, especially with all the new variants, COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% effective. While you may be vaccinated, if exposed to COVID-19 there is a chance that infection could occur and still cause rashes in some people.

How long does a COVID-19 rash last?

COVID-19 rashes typically last between 2-12 days with the average being 8 days. COVID toes typically last 10-14 days.

Are all rashes COVID-19 rashes?

No, not all rashes are COVID-19 rashes. In fact, most cases of rash are due to other causes such as an allergic reaction, hives, eczema, or athlete's foot. However, if you have a rash and are concerned that it may be related to COVID-19, please consult with your doctor.

Summary

A COVID-19 rash is a symptom of the virus and can take on several forms. The rash can be itchy, painful, and have a burning sensation similar to athlete's foot when on your feet. It can take on several forms including hives, macules and papules, erythema multiforme or blisters, a lace pattern on the skin with discolored rings on the skin, small pinpoint spots resembling tiny blisters, and toe rash/COVID toes, which can appear anywhere on your body. The most severe form is erythema multiforme which are blisters. The diagnosis is often made by exclusion and the treatment will vary depending on your symptoms. Most rashes can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines and steroid creams, oatmeal baths, cold compresses, and not scratching the area. There is a chance that if exposed to COVID-19, the infection could still occur even with a COVID-19 vaccination. The rash will typically last between two to twelve days with COVID toes lasting longer than average at ten to fourteen days. If you suspect that you may have a COVID-19 rash, please contact your doctor or health care provider for further treatment options and follow-up care. If you have COVID-19 and are experiencing shortness of breath, please seek medical attention immediately.

References and Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Houston Methodist 

Mayo Clinic 

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