Although COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, it can also cause rashes. What a COVID-19 rash looks like can vary, and it can occur anywhere on the skin and in the mouth.

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue, cough, and shortness of breath. However, not everyone experiences all of these. For some, a rash may be one of the only symptoms.

Experts are unsure how common rashes are in adults with COVID-19. A 2020 study of over 2,000 individuals estimated that skin symptoms affect around 1% of those with the disease. However, a 2021 review of nearly 900 people reported a much higher incidence of 12%.

This article examines COVID-19 rashes in adults, including their symptoms and appearance. It also discusses other conditions that may cause similar rashes.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

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People with COVID-19 can experience various rashes, so no single type of rash can reliably indicate a person has the illness. Someone with the condition may have:

  • a blotchy area of discoloration
  • tiny red, purple, or darker brown spots
  • itchy, raised bumps
  • small blisters that resemble chickenpox
  • a web-like pattern on the skin

Additionally, the rash may be itchy or sore.

According to a 2022 review, some of the most common types of COVID-19 rash are:

  • Morbilliform: This is the most common type of rash. It resembles measles in appearance, consisting of spots that scatter across the skin. Some may overlap to form larger patches of discoloration.
  • Urticarial: Urticaria, or hives, consists of raised, itchy bumps on the skin that doctors call welts or wheals. Current data suggest that hives has links to milder cases of COVID-19.
  • Vesicular: These rashes consist of tiny spots similar to chickenpox. In lighter skin tones, the spots may be red, while in darker skin tones they may be red, purple, or darker brown.
  • COVID toes: COVID toes refer to painful chilblain-like bumps that can appear on the toes during COVID-19. However, scientists are unsure if this is a symptom of the condition. This is because people with this symptom often have few other COVID-19 symptoms and do not always test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease.
  • Oral lesions: Some people experience sores or ulcers around the mouth and lips.
  • Vaso-occlusive lesions: This type of rash occurs when blood vessels become blocked. It is more common in moderate to severe COVID-19 and appears to have associations with a higher risk of pneumonia and needing intensive care. The lesions can consist of small or larger patches of discoloration, which may be red or purple.

COVID-19 may also cause a recurrence of a person’s previous skin conditions, such as cold sores, chickenpox, or shingles.

Scientists have observed higher rates of the viruses that cause these symptoms — herpes simplex virus and varicella-zoster virus — in hospitalized people with COVID-19. This may be because the condition reactivates viruses that can lie dormant in the body.

If a person develops a new rash and other potential COVID-19 symptoms or has recently been in contact with someone with COVID-19, they should follow local healthcare guidelines for getting a test.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms receive testing immediately. If a person has exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and has no symptoms, they should wait at least 5 days before testing.

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include:

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they should stay at home for a minimum of 5 days and isolate themselves from others in their household. They should also:

  • use a separate bathroom
  • improve ventilation in the house, such as opening windows
  • avoid sharing cups, utensils, and towels
  • wear a mask when around others

If a person tests negative for the condition, they need to contact their doctor for advice. They need to call ahead or arrange a virtual appointment rather than visiting in person, as some people with rashes that appear to have links to COVID-19 do not test positive.

If someone develops any of the following, they need to seek emergency medical care:

  • trouble breathing
  • pain or pressure in the chest
  • feeling confused
  • an inability to wake or stay awake
  • pale or blue lips or nails
  • a rash that spreads rapidly or covers most of the body
  • a rash that blisters or is very painful
  • a rash that does not disappear under a glass, along with:
    • neck stiffness
    • light sensitivity
    • high body temperature
    • headache
    • muscle or joint pain
    • nausea or vomiting

Experts are still learning about COVID-19 and how it affects the skin. Currently, it seems that rashes relating to the condition typically last between 2 and 12 days, with an average of 8 days.

However, in some cases, a COVID rash can last many months. Long COVID is a potential complication of COVID-19. It occurs when symptoms last many weeks or months after the initial infection. A rash can be one of the symptoms of long COVID.

For most people, COVID-19 causes mild symptoms and goes away on its own. This should also include any rashes it causes. In fact, some skin symptoms, such as hives and COVID toes, appear to have links to milder disease.

However, the rash may itch or cause discomfort. To ease the symptoms, people can:

  • apply a cold compress
  • wash with lukewarm or cool water
  • try to avoid scratching, as this may make the symptoms worse

For COVID toes, the American Academy of Dermatology Association advises using hydrocortisone cream to reduce itchiness and pain.

If a person has a rash, they should not assume it is COVID-19 according to its appearance alone, as other conditions can cause similar rashes and flu-like symptoms. Similarly to COVID-19, these conditions can be highly contagious.

Infectious illnesses that also cause a rash include:

  • measles
  • shingles
  • rubella
  • mononucleosis, or mono
  • fifth disease
  • scabies
  • other skin infections, such as ringworm

Other potential causes include:

A person should not try to self-diagnose themselves. If possible, they need to seek testing and advice from a doctor and let them know if an infectious illness could be the cause.

A COVID-19 rash in adults can vary in appearance. It may look similar to hives, chickenpox, chilblains, or measles. These rashes will typically go away on their own in 2–12 days. However, some types of rash are more severe and may require treatment. Additionally, in cases of long COVID, rashes persist for many weeks or months.

A COVID-19 rash may occur with other COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, chills, and fatigue. However, it may also appear on its own. The only way to be sure of the cause is to take a test.

If a person’s result is positive for COVID-19, the CDC advises staying home for at least 5 days. They also need to avoid contact with others and seek emergency medical care if any concerning or severe symptoms appear.