Clammy skin refers to wet or sweaty skin. Sweating is the body’s normal response to overheating. The moisture of sweat has a cooling effect on your skin.
Changes in your body such as physical exertion or extreme heat trigger your sweat glands, causing your skin to become clammy. This is normal. However, clammy skin that occurs for no apparent reason can be the sign of a serious medical condition.
What Causes Clammy Skin?
Clammy skin can be caused by long-term medical conditions or a medical emergency. The most common causes include:
- anxiety attacks
- heart attack
- severe pain
- severe allergic reaction
- low blood oxygen
- heat exhaustion
- internal bleeding
Changes in your hormone levels, such as an increase or decrease in the sex hormone estrogen, can also lead to hot flashes and clammy skin.
When Is Clammy Skin the Sign of a Medical Emergency?
Clammy skin that is not a result of physical exertion or a reaction to hot weather is a symptom of a more serious medical condition. Don’t ignore this symptom—always report it to your doctor.
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to clammy skin:
- pale skin
- moist skin
- pain in the chest
- pain in the limbs
- rapid heart rate
- shallow breathing
- weak pulse
Clammy skin might be the result of a severe allergic reaction if it is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- trouble breathing
- facial swelling
- itchy skin
- swelling in the mouth
- swelling in the throat
- shortness of breath
Clammy skin can also be a symptom of shock. Seek medical attention immediately if you begin to develop symptoms of shock, including:
- chest pain
- blue fingernails and lips
- low urine output
- rapid pulse
- weak pulse
- shallow breathing
Shock can be a deadly condition if it is not treated immediately.
At the Doctor’s Office
To determine the cause of your symptom, your doctor will go over your medical history and that of your family. He or she may also ask you questions about your eating habits and daily activities.
If the doctor suspects that the clammy skin is due to a heart problem, he or she will test your heart’s rhythm through an electrocardiogram test (ECG) test. Your doctor will connect small electrodes to your skin. These are connected to a machine that can read your heart rhythm.
If your doctor thinks you have a hormone imbalance, he or she will take a small sample of your blood to test your hormone levels and check for signs of infection.
How Is Clammy Skin Treated?
Heat exhaustion and dehydration are both treated by rehydrating the body with fluids using an intravenous line (IV) line. If you have heat exhaustion and symptoms of shock, you may need to stay in a hospital during your treatment.
You will need immediate medical attention if a life-threatening condition such as shock or a heart attack is causing your clammy skin.
For a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), you will need a medication called epinephrine to counteract your allergic reaction. Epinephrine is a type of adrenaline that stops your body’s reaction to the allergen that is causing your symptoms.
Hormonal imbalances caused by menopause or andropause can be treated through replacement hormone medication. This medication is only available by prescription.