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An unusual foot problem has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic and captured the attention of podiatrists, doctors and scientists alike. Some people who become infected with the virus develop a condition known as Covid toe or Covid toes.

You may be surprised to hear this. After all, coronavirus is primarily associated with signs of respiratory illness such as coughing, as the World Health Organisation makes clear. However, Covid toe has been discussed and investigated by medical professionals since the early stages of the pandemic. (It was first reported in April 2020, notes Health.com.)

What’s more, scientific research published in October this year has shown there’s a firm link between developing Covid toe and the way some people’s immune systems fight off COVID-19, as we’ll explain.

Covid Toe Symptoms – Redness, Swelling and More

Covid toe can affect one or more of your toes. Your fingers are also susceptible to the problem.

What are the main symptoms?

  • Inflammation
  • Skin discolouration – some or all of the toe turns deep red, purple or bluish and may look bruised
  • Burning sensation
  • Itching
  • Rough areas, lumps and blisters (pus may be present)
  • Pain, soreness and tenderness

Covid Toe Resembles Chilblains

If you look at Healthline’s Covid toe photos, you’ll notice the condition is similar to chilblains, the red, itchy sores that can appear on your digits after you’ve been in a particularly cold, damp environment.

Many people suffer from chilblains, especially during the autumn and winter. They’re far more common than Covid toe. But bear in mind that if you develop chilblain-like lesions without having been exposed to low temperatures, Covid toe could be to blame.

You may have Covid toe even if you feel well. Often, people with this foot problem don’t experience the main symptoms of COVID-19 infections.

Young People are Most Often Affected

If Covid toe really takes hold (for example, if blisters form on the bottom of your toes), wearing shoes or walking around may be unbearable. Covid toe can be a debilitating foot problem, rather like gout. BBC News has highlighted the experience of a 13-year-old girl with severe Covid toe who’s been using a wheelchair because her feet hurt so much.

Although people of all ages can develop the condition, teenagers and children are most commonly affected.

Covid toe is rare among people who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, the BBC has reported.

New Research

For months, there was uncertainty about the exact cause of Covid toe and why some people infected with COVID-19 develop it but not others. Thankfully, Covid toe research conducted by the University of Paris and published in the British Journal of Dermatology has recently shed light on this foot problem.

50 sufferers took part in the research, as well as 13 people with chilblain-like lesions that predate the emergence of COVID-19. The findings, based on skin and blood tests, indicate Covid toe occurs when the immune system responds swiftly and aggressively to the virus (young people’s immune systems often behave like this). It isn’t caused by COVID-19 itself.

Covid toe is a sign that some of your antibodies have gone into overdrive and attacked your cells, not just the virus, leading to excessive inflammation. It also suggests that your body has produced too many Type I interferons: these antiviral agents can cause skin problems when present in large numbers (as the Royal College of Podiatry pointed out earlier this year).

Because your circulation is poorer in your toes than in parts of your body closer to your heart, it’s all too easy for well-meaning but problem-causing antibodies and interferons to linger there, resulting in Covid toe.

Our London Foot Clinic Team Can Help

Hopefully, the research will pave the way for Covid toe treatments. Although the condition tends to go away on its own eventually, some people have it for months. You could still have Covid toe long after your body has eradicated the virus. No wonder many Covid toe sufferers receive negative COVID-19 test results.

If you’ve got Covid toe symptoms, the podiatry team working at our five hygienic, well-equipped London foot clinic locations can help. We can diagnose the issue and suggest ways of reducing the discomfort (a steroid cream can help, for instance).

If you’re testing negative for COVID-19, we can help in person. If you have a positive COVID-19 test result and/or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (or are close to someone in this situation), please stay at home, and we’ll help by phone or online instead.

To tackle troublesome toes, contact Feet By Pody today.