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Dermatologic changes with COVID-19: What we know and don’t know


Dr. Lipper: I find the antibody issue both fascinating and confusing.

In my practice, we’ve noticed a range of symptoms associated with pseudo-pernio. Some people barely realize it’s there and only called because they saw a headline in the news. Others complain of severe burning, throbbing, or itching that keeps them up at night and can sometimes last for weeks. Are there any treatments that seem to help?

Dr. Fox: We can start by saying, as you note, that a lot of patients don’t need interventions. They want reassurance that their toes aren’t going to fall off, that nothing terrible is going to happen to them, and often that’s enough. So far, many patients have contacted us just because they heard about the link between what they were seeing on their feet and COVID. They were likely toward the end of any other symptoms they may have had. But moving forward, I think we’re going to be seeing patients at the more active stage as the public is more aware of this finding.

Most of the time we can manage with clobetasol ointment and low-dose aspirin. I wouldn’t give aspirin to a young child with a high fever, but otherwise I think aspirin is not harmful. A paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2014, before COVID, by Jonathan Cappel, MD, and David Wetter, MD, provides a nice therapeutic algorithm. Assuming that the findings we are seeing now are inflammatory, then I think that algorithm should apply. Nifedipine 20-60 mg/day is an option. Hydroxychloroquine, a maximum of 5 mg/kg per day, is an option. I have used hydroxychloroquine most commonly, pre-COVID, in patients who have symptomatic pernio.

I also use pentoxifylline 400 mg three times a day, which has a slight anti-inflammatory effect, when I think a blood vessel is incidentally involved or the patient has a predisposition to clotting. Nicotinamide 500 mg three times a day can be used, though I have not used it.

Some topical options are nitroglycerin, tacrolimus, and minoxidil.

However, during this post-COVID period, I have not come across many with pseudo-pernio who needed anything more than a topical steroid and some aspirin. But I do know of other physicians who have been taking care of patients with much more symptomatic disease.

Dr. Lipper: That is a comprehensive list. You’ve mentioned some options that I’ve wondered about, especially pentoxifylline, which I have found to be very helpful for livedoid vasculopathy. I should note that these are all off-label uses.

Let’s talk about some other suspected skin manifestations of COVID. A prospective nationwide study in Spain of 375 patients reported on a number of different skin manifestations of COVID.

You’re part of a team doing critically important work with the American Academy of Dermatology COVID-19 Dermatology Registry. I know it’s early going, but what are some of the other common skin presentations you’re finding?

Dr. Fox: I’m glad you brought up that paper out of Spain. I think it is really good and does highlight the difference in acute versus convalescent cutaneous manifestations and prognosis. It confirms what we’re seeing. Retiform purpura is an early finding associated with ill patients in the hospital. Pseudo pernio-like lesions tend to be later-stage and in younger, healthier patients.


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