What is clammy skin?
Clammy skin occurs when your skin turns cooler than normal and is moist, despite a cooler surface temperature. Clammy skin is often pale. When the body is in any type of circulatory crisis, adrenaline prompts a decrease in the blood flow to peripheral areas of your body (such as your appendages and skin) in order to redirect more blood to the vital organs. This causes the cool and clammy skin.
Frequent causes of clammy skin include acute allergic reaction; anxiety; hypoglycemia (low blood sugar); severe pain; and low blood oxygen levels from any of the following conditions: heart attack; heat exhaustion; pulmonary embolus (blockage of an artery within the lung due to a blood clot); heavy or internal bleeding, dehydration, or pneumonia; severe infection; or drug overdose that reduces heart function or blood pressure.
Almost any of these causes can be emergency conditions on their own. In addition, certain causes of clammy skin, such as any condition that reduces blood flow, can lead to shock or organ failure when untreated.
Clammy skin can be a symptom of an emergency situation. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms including bluish coloration of the lips, fingernails and mucous membranes(cyanosis); chest pain or discomfort; confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment; difficulty breathing; dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness; little or no urine output; profuse sweating; shortness of breath; or weak pulse.
If your clammy skin is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with clammy skin?
Clammy skin may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect blood oxygen levels may also involve other body systems.
Cardiovascular symptoms that may occur along with clammy skin
Clammy skin may accompany other symptoms that affect the cardiovascular system including:
- Bluish coloration of the lips, fingernails, and mucous membranes (cyanosis)
- Chest pain or pressure
- Weak pulse or rapid, weak pulse
Other symptoms that may occur along with clammy skin
Clammy skin may accompany symptoms that are related to other body systems including:
- Confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
- Profuse sweating
- Reduced urine output
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, clammy skin may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
What causes clammy skin?
The most frequent causes of clammy skin are anxiety; hypoglycemia (low blood sugar); severe pain; and other conditions that cause low blood-oxygen levels. Many causes of clammy skin are serious or life threatening.
Serious or life-threatening causes of clammy skin
In some cases, clammy skin may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions
- Acute allergic reaction
- Drug overdose (prescribed or illicit)
- Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- Heat exhaustion
- Heavy or internal bleeding
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Pulmonary embolus (blockage of an artery in the lung due to a blood clot)
Other causes of clammy skin
Clammy skin can also be caused by other potentially serious conditions including:
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Severe pain
Questions for diagnosing the cause of clammy skin
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your clammy skin including:
- When did you first notice you had clammy skin?
- Are you having any trouble breathing?
- Are you now, or have you recently been, in severe pain?
- Have you been injured?
- Did you, or do you, feel faint? Confused? Anxious?
- Have you been exposed to high temperatures?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- What medications are you taking?
Because clammy skin can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Cardiogenic shock (shock caused by heart damage and ineffective heart function)
- Hypovolemic shock (from low blood volumes)
- Septic shock (from widespread infection)