As we approach the third winter pandemic, most people are all too familiar with the Signs of COVID-19. The disease appears on many different faces and can manifest itself in the form of chills, cough, difficulty breathing or other disturbing combination of symptoms. But sometimes, this disease can seem positively strange.
In rare cases, SARS-CoV-2 rears its head on parts of the body that respiratory viruses did not come into contact with. From head to toe, doctors have witnessed a host of bizarre cases. Patchy tongues, swollen fingers, hair loss—these issues can be troubling to patients, says Peter Chen Hong, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.
But expectations don’t have to be. This is because such symptoms can go away on their own, says Chen Hong, who has treated hundreds of people with COVID-19.
Nobody knows exactly how often Covid tongueAnd the COVID toeAnd the Covid eye Or other rare conditions that occur – and it’s not always clear that COVID-19 is the actual culprit. still The massive scale of coronavirus infection I mean, SARS-CoV-2 has many opportunities to show its stuff (SN: 9/8/22). The United States is now approaching 98 million confirmed cases. Such a staggering number of cases means that “statistically, you’re going to find people who have more and more weird things,” says Chen Hong.
Doctors rely on medical case reports to get clients on potential treatments and hints about how long symptoms might last. Chen Hong says that even just knowing someone else has mouth sores or sore fingers can be helpful. This allows him to tell his patients, “You’re not the only one,” he says. “It means a lot to a lot of people.”
Internal medicine physician Saira Chaughtai published such a study in October in the Journal of Medical Case Reports After one of her primary care patients came in with an offer Chughtai had never seen before. Ten days after a positive COVID-19 test result, the patient The tongue began to swelland eventually erupt into white-ringed lesions.
Some spots appeared to be “naked,” says Chughtai, MD, of Hackensack Meridian Health in Neptune, NJ. The patient wasn’t someone doctors would normally consider weak, either. She was 30 years old, in good health.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, COVID can do anything,'” Chaotai recalls thinking.
Mouth sores can look different between patients. Qin Hong saw people whose tongues were covered in white, as if they were chewing a mouthful of tortilla chips. For the Chugtai patient, the COVID tongue felt sensitive and irritated, with a flare. Chaughtai wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
I looked through the scientific literature and prescribed a variety of mouthwashes, which helped. But after six months, the patient’s tongue had not completely healed. So, Chughtai got creative. I teamed up with a sports medicine doctor, who shot a low-level laser light at a patient’s tongue. He had previously used this light therapy to treat muscle injuries.
Laser therapy makes blood vessels dilate, Chughtai says, which enhances blood flow to the treated areas, which may promote healing. It seems to be working for her patient. The tongue lesions began to heal and the severity of the seizures subsided. Women still sometimes feel some tongue sensitivity when stressed, but not as bad as the initial outbreak.
COVID toe effects
About 1,300 kilometers west, a podiatrist in Crown Point, Indiana, dilates a patient’s blood vessels to treat a strange coronavirus condition: toe COVID. After infection with SARS-CoV-2, fingers and toes can swell, sometimes painfully, and turn pink or reddish-purple.
“We’ve seen cases of these lesions looking like chilblains, something you get when you’re exposed to cold weather,” says Michael Nirenberg of Friendly Foot Care. But his patients weren’t out in the cold — they were exposed to the coronavirus.
Nirenberg has seen up to 40 people with symptoms, which he has found tend to resolve within a month or two. But one of his patients, a 59-year-old man, was unable to kick his toe because of the coronavirus. It ultimately lasted nearly 670 days – the longest documented case Nuremberg has seen. The term we used was Long COVID toehe says. Nirenberg and his colleagues reported the case this spring in Journal of Dermatology.
Nirenberg prescribed daily use of nitroglycerin ointment to increase blood flow to the toes. That might have helped, Nirenberg says, “but I don’t know if time did the trick, too.” After 22 months, the condition may have finally resolved on its own.
The number of COVID-19 toe injuries Nirenberg has encountered has decreased these days, but he still sees people coming in with this condition. And although Chugtai has yet to treat another case of COVID tongue, a man recently emailed her saying he had been experiencing a similar crisis for two years.
UCSF’s Chen Hong says he thinks it’s important for people to know that COVID-19 can cause such variety of symptoms (SN: 11/11/22). “We can’t really predict who will get what,” he says. But in his experience, strange symptoms tend to appear more often in people who haven’t been vaccinated.
Such symptoms may not be as serious as hearts or lungs affected by COVID, but they sure can sound scary, says Chen Hong. “If that’s why some people get vaccinated, I think that would be great,” he says.