What is COVID toe? Condition is real whether Aaron Rodgers has it or not

The ailment is getting attention this week after reports that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has the condition. He’s denied that claim.

This April 3, 2020 photo provided by Northwestern University shows discoloration on a teenage patient's toes at the onset of the condition informally called "COVID toes." The red, sore and sometimes itchy swellings on toes look like chilblains, something doctors normally see on the feet and hands of people whove spent a long time outdoors in the cold. (Courtesy of Dr. Amy Paller/Northwestern University via AP) (Uncredited, patient photo)

COVID toe is having a moment — and some might say that’s a good thing because people are starting to learn about the condition.

The recent attention stems from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who says despite rumors, he does not have it.

Rodgers confirmed that he’s been playing with an injured pinky toe since returning to the field after being out with a positive COVID-19 test. But Rodgers says rumors that he was suffering from “COVID toe” are untrue. Instead, he blamed the ailment on an injury he suffered while working out at home during quarantine — describing it “a little worse than turf toe.”

OK. So Rodgers doesn’t have it, but what is COVID toe?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, doctors around the world have noticed that some coronavirus patients develop discolored and swollen toes.

The condition causes the toes to turn red or purple and can also cause blisters, itch or pain. Some people develop raised bumps or patches of rough skin. The condition usually lasts a couple of weeks for most, but some people have had it linger for months.

The lesions often resemble another condition known as chilblains (also referred to as pernio and perniosis) that is believed to be caused in some people after they are exposed to cold temperatures and then rewarm too quickly.

While it’s not entirely clear what causes COVID toe, experts suspect it’s the result of how a person’s immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19.

Some people have also experienced the reaction on their fingers and hands, while others have developed rashes on their bodies.

Unlike the distinctive signs of measles and chickenpox, “there is no single COVID-19 rash,” according to the AAD.

If you experience pain and itching with the condition, you can apply hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. If symptoms worsen, you’re advised to see a dermatologist.

Dr. Lindy Fox, a San Francisco-based dermatologist, told the New York Times that COVID toe isn’t something to be too worried about. In fact, most people with COVID toe don’t experience a severe response to COVID-19.

“Usually it’s a good sign your body has seen Covid and is making a good immune reaction to it,” she said.

The condition has also been recently reported in people who test negative for COVID-19. This could be the result of a delayed response to a very mild infection, some surmise.

A study conducted in France and published in the British Journal of Dermatology analyzed blood samples from people with COVID toe. They found high levels of Type 1 interferon, a protein that triggers cells to fight viruses. They also found an antibody that can attack healthy cells. The study suggested that abnormal changes in blood vessel lining could also play a role, according to the New York Times.

If you experience COVID toe or develop a COVID-related rash, the American Academy of Dermatology asks that you request that your doctor submit the information to them so they can continue to learn more about it.

This April 6, 2020 photo provided by Northwestern University shows discoloration on a teenage patient's toes three days after the onset of the condition informally called "COVID toes." The red, sore and sometimes itchy swellings on toes look like chilblains, something doctors normally see on the feet and hands of people whove spent a long time outdoors in the cold. (Courtesy of Dr. Amy Paller/Northwestern University via AP) (patient photo)
This April 21, 2020 photo provided by Northwestern University shows discoloration on a teenage patient's toes 4 weeks after the onset of the condition informally called "COVID toes." The red, sore and sometimes itchy swellings on toes look like chilblains, something doctors normally see on the feet and hands of people whove spent a long time outdoors in the cold. (Courtesy of Dr. Amy Paller/Northwestern University via AP) (Patient Photo)

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About the Author:

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 20 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.