Coronavirus ‘long haulers’ can have skin problems that last for months

BOSTON, Mass. — For some COVID-19 patients, their battle with the virus can last a few weeks before they eventually recover. For COVID “long haulers,” doctors say these patients never seem to fully get over their infection. As physicians continue to find various skin problems related to the pandemic, a new study reveals some long haulers are forced to live with these conditions for months after their illness.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) say some coronavirus long haulers are dealing with hives, rashes, and even swollen hands and feet for several weeks. The team from MGH worked with the International League of Dermatological Societies and the American Academy of Dermatology to study nearly 1,000 coronavirus patients experiencing skin abnormalities while sick. Study authors classified anyone with skin symptoms linked to COVID-19 which lasted at least 60 days as a long hauler.

“Our findings reveal a previously unreported subset of patients with long-standing skin symptoms from COVID-19, in particular those with COVID toes,” senior author Esther E. Freeman says in a media release.

What kind of skin symptoms does COVID cause in long haulers?

Among 224 suspected cases and 90 lab-confirmed long hauler cases, the average duration of skin symptoms lasted for 12 days. This number tends to fluctuate however, depending on which condition a patient is dealing with.

For people with rash-like morbilliform, which is similar to the measles, outbreaks lasted about a week. Other patients dealing with urticarial eruptions (hives) saw their skin clear up in four days. For some of the lab-confirmed COVID cases, the outbreaks could last for 28 days.

Papulosquamous eruptions, red or purple scaly lesions of papules and plaques, can last up to 20 days in some patients. The MGH team says one long hauler had the condition for 70 days.

One of the most unrelenting symptoms tied to the pandemic has been “COVID toes.” This odd side-effect, also known as pernio or chilblains, causes redness and swelling in the hands and feet. The study finds COVID toes last for 15 days in suspected COVID-19 cases and only 10 days in lab-confirmed patients.

Six long hauler patients however had documented cases of COVID toes lasting for over 60 days. Two lab-confirmed patients had this swelling for over 130 days.

“This data adds to our knowledge about the long-term effects of COVID-19 in different organ systems. The skin is potentially a visible window into inflammation that could be going on in the body,” the director of Global Health Dermatology at MGH adds.

“We encourage clinicians taking care of patients with COVID-19 to ask about and evaluate any skin symptoms. Health care providers can enter information into our registry to further our understanding of the dermatologic effects of COVID-19.”

The findings are being presented at the 29th Congress of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

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