Some people with COVID-19 may develop a rash. The type of rash varies from person to person. Certain rash types may suggest a more severe infection.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While many people who become sick with COVID-19 experience a mild or moderate illness, some can develop serious symptoms that require hospitalization.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fatigue, fever, and cough. However, some people may experience less common symptoms such as rash.

Below, we explore what COVID-19 rashes look like, how they can be treated, and when it’s important to see a doctor.

Some people with COVID-19 may develop a rash. While skin symptoms have been reported in adults and children, most available research centers on adults.

It’s unclear how often people experience skin symptoms with COVID. Findings from studies range from 0.2% in a 2020 Chinese study to 60% in a 2021 European research review. Some researchers think there may be regional variations and that skin symptoms like rash are more common among people who live in North America and Europe.

Some general symptoms associated with many COVID-19 rashes include:

  • Skin discoloration: Rashes are typically discolored in comparison to neighboring skin. On light skin, a rash may look red, pink, or purple. On dark skin, it may appear purple, ashy gray, or dark brown.
  • Swelling: The affected area may appear swollen or puffy compared to surrounding skin.
  • Itching: Many, but not all, types of COVID-19 rash may itch.

When do rashes appear and how long do they last?

When exactly the rash occurs during COVID-19 can vary. In some instances, it may appear at COVID-19 symptom onset, while in others, it may happen several days after other symptoms have developed.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, COVID-19 rash can last 2–12 days. On average, most people have a rash for 8 days. However, rashes impacting the toes may last 10–14 days.

The appearance of COVID-19 rashes can vary. While some infectious diseases, such as chickenpox and measles, cause a very distinctive rash, a rash due to COVID-19 can take many forms:

  • Hives: COVID-19 rash can appear as itchy patches or wheals that resemble hives. These most often affect the limbs and torso.
  • Macules and papules: In some cases, a COVID-19 rash can consist of itchy spots that may either be flat or raised, usually on the torso.
  • Rash with blisters: This type of COVID-19 rash can appear with blisters that may look similar to chickenpox. It’s most often observed on the torso and may itch.
  • Lace-like pattern: Some COVID-19 rashes can have rings of skin discoloration that form a lace or net-like pattern, typically on the legs.
  • Pinpoint spots: This type of COVID-19 rash consists of dark pinpoint spots, most often on the legs.
  • Toe rash: Also referred to as “COVID toes,” this type of rash causes discolored patches and swelling of one or more toes. The affected area may be painful, itchy, or have a burning sensation. Toe rashes appear to be more common in young adults.

Some research suggests that the type of rash you experience may be related to the severity of your infection. In a 2022 systematic review, people with macules and papules tended to have a less severe course of COVID-19. People with a lace-like pattern or pinpoint spots tended to have more severe disease.

Below are some examples of what COVID-19 rash can look like.

Researchers don’t understand why some people with COVID-19 get a rash and others do not. They also don’t know what exactly causes the rash to occur. Some possible mechanisms include:

  • direct infection of skin tissues by SARS-CoV-2
  • immune system activity
  • the effects of increased blood clotting (hypercoagulability) that can sometimes happen in COVID-19

It’s also possible that different types of COVID-19 rash will happen through different mechanisms. Researchers are working to find out more.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)

MIS-C is a potentially serious complication of COVID-19 in children that causes inflammation in various organs in the body. Doctors and scientists do not yet understand what causes MIS-C.

Skin symptoms are associated with MIS-C and can include:

  • rash
  • redness of the hands, feet, or both
  • lips that are dry, red, or cracked

Other potential symptoms can include:

  • red, bloodshot eyes
  • fever
  • extreme fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • digestive symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea
  • neck pain

Many children who develop MIS-C will need to be cared for in a hospital. Because of this, it’s important to contact your child’s pediatrician immediately if your child has symptoms of MIS-C.

Was this helpful?

It’s also possible to develop a rash after receiving your COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s look at this in a little more detail.

Allergic reaction

Some people may have an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. If this happens, you may notice a rash or hives after you get your vaccine.

Allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine can be classified as either non-severe or severe:

  • Non-severe: Non-severe allergic reactions happen within 4 hours of vaccination. They may include signs such as hives, swelling, and wheezing.
  • Severe: This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis. It typically happens in the minutes after vaccination and can include hives, swelling of the face and throat, and dizziness or fainting.

Seek immediate care if you have an allergic reaction to a vaccine

If you have an allergic reaction after getting your COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you seek emergency medical care. The CDC also recommends you do not receive further doses of that vaccine. You may be able to receive a different type of COVID-19 vaccine.

You may wish to speak with a doctor for more guidance.

Was this helpful?

Delayed rash at the injection site

Some people may get a rash at the site of their injection. You may see this referred to as “COVID arm.”

This type of rash is most often associated with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and typically happens after the first dose. However, it can also occur after a future dose.

Delayed rashes at the injection site typically appear about a week after vaccination and last about 4 days. This rash can be large and include symptoms like:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • warmth
  • itching
  • pain

This type of reaction isn’t harmful. If you have a delayed rash at the injection site, the CDC recommends you still receive any recommended additional doses or boosters. However, you may want to receive it in your other arm.

Most rashes that happen with COVID-19 will go away in about a week. Meanwhile, you can help treat a COVID-19 rash at home by doing the following:

  • Apply a cool compress to the affected area to help ease swelling.
  • Indulge in an oatmeal bath to help soothe irritated skin.
  • Use OTC topicals, such as hydrocortisone or calamine lotion, to help alleviate itching or swelling.
  • Take OTC antihistamines to help reduce symptoms associated with hive-like COVID-19 rash.
  • Avoid scratching to help reduce the risk of infection, scarring, or skin pigmentation changes.

A doctor may also prescribe a prescription medication to help with a COVID-19 rash. These may include corticosteroids in a topical or oral formulation.

If you develop an unexplained rash, it’s a good rule of thumb to talk with a doctor. COVID-19 rashes may appear very similar to rashes caused by other medical conditions that need treatment.

The only way to be sure if your rash is due to COVID-19 is to get a COVID-19 test.

Whether or not it’s due to COVID-19, it’s important to seek medical attention for any rash that:

  • happens along with any of the following symptoms:
  • covers a large area of your body
  • appears suddenly and begins to spread quickly

If your rash is due to COVID-19, seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if you develop any of the following serious symptoms:

Rash is one of the less common symptoms of COVID-19. It can take on many forms, including hives, macules, papules, or a toe rash. It’s unknown what exactly causes COVID-19 rashes to occur.

You can also develop a rash after being vaccinated for COVID-19. This can happen due to an allergic or delayed reaction at the injection site.

Generally, most COVID-19 rashes go away in about a week. You can care for them at home by applying a cool compress, using OTC topical products, and resisting the urge to scratch.

Contact a doctor if you develop an unexplained rash, particularly if it’s painful, has blisters, or covers a large area.

If you have COVID-19, seek emergency care if you have symptoms like trouble breathing or persistent chest pain.