Clammy skin refers to wet or sweaty skin. Sweating is your body’s normal response to overheating. The moisture of sweat has a cooling effect on your skin.
Changes in your body from physical exertion or extreme heat can trigger your sweat glands and cause 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.
Clammy skin that isn’t a result of physical exertion or a reaction to hot weather can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition. Don’t ignore this symptom. You should always report it to your doctor. In order to relieve clammy skin, the underlying cause must be discovered and treated.
Clammy skin can be a symptom of several conditions, such as a kidney infection or the flu. Other common causes of clammy skin include:
- panic attacks
- low blood sugar
- an overactive thyroid gland
- hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating
- alcohol withdrawal syndrome
More serious conditions
Clammy skin can also be a sign of a more serious health condition. These include:
Clammy skin can also be one of the symptoms associated with a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks one of your coronary arteries. Coronary arteries take blood and oxygen to your heart muscle. If your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood or oxygen, your heart muscle cells will die and your heart won’t work the way it should. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you believe you’re having a heart attack.
Another possible cause of clammy skin is shock. Shock is commonly thought of as the response to emotional distress, or a sudden fright in response to a traumatic event. However, in medical terms, it occurs when you don’t have enough blood circulating in your body. Shock is your body’s response to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
A few possible causes of shock include:
- uncontrolled bleeding from a wound/injury
- internal bleeding
- a severe burn covering a large area of the body
- a spinal injury
Clammy skin is one of the common symptoms of shock. Shock can be a deadly condition if it isn’t treated immediately. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you believe you’re going into shock.
You should call a healthcare provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to clammy skin:
- pale skin
- moist skin
- pain in the chest, abdomen, or back
- pain in the limbs
- rapid heart beat
- shallow breathing
- weak pulse
- altered thinking ability
- persistent vomiting, especially if there’s blood in the vomit
Call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency department if these symptoms don’t quickly go away.
Clammy skin that’s accompanied by certain symptoms might be the result of a severe allergic reaction. You should call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you experience any of the following symptoms along with clammy skin:
- hives or skin rash
- trouble breathing
- facial swelling
- swelling in the mouth
- swelling in the throat
- shortness of breath
- rapid, weak pulse
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of consciousness
Clammy skin can also be a symptom of shock. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you believe you’re going into shock. Symptoms of shock can include:
- chest pain
- blue fingernails and lips
- low or no urine output
- rapid pulse
- weak pulse
- shallow breathing
- pale, cool, clammy skin
- profuse sweating or moist skin
Chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack, but some people have little or no chest pain. Women often chalk up the “discomfort” of a heart attack to less life-threatening conditions, as they tend to put their families first and ignore symptoms.
Pain from a heart attack can last more than 20 minutes. It can be severe or mild. Clammy skin can also be one of the signs of a heart attack. Certain other symptoms can also indicate a heart attack. You should call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you experience any of the following symptoms along with clammy skin:
- heart palpitations or a feeling like your heart is beating too fast or irregularly
- shortness of breath
- sweating, which can be very heavy
- radiating arm pain and numbness, usually in the left arm
To determine the cause of your clammy skin, your healthcare provider will go over both your medical history and that of your family. They may also ask you questions about your eating habits and daily activities.
If your doctor suspects that your clammy skin is due to a heart problem, they’ll test your heart’s rhythm through an electrocardiogram test (EKG). Your healthcare provider will connect small electrodes to your skin. These are connected to a machine that can read your heart rhythm.
Your healthcare provider may also take a small sample of your blood, or order lab tests, to test your hormone levels and check for signs of infection.
Treatment for clammy skin depends on its underlying cause. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are both treated by rehydrating with fluids using an intravenous (IV) line. You may need to stay in a hospital during your treatment if you have heat exhaustion and symptoms of shock.
You’ll 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 or anaphylaxis, you’ll 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’s causing your symptoms.
Clammy skin caused by hormonal imbalances from menopause or andropause (male menopause), can be treated with replacement hormone medication. This medication is only available by prescription.
Above all, you should listen to your body. You should contact your healthcare provider if you’re sweating profusely or suffering from clammy skin. Your healthcare provider can run or order the necessary tests to find out what’s causing your clammy skin, and help you get to the root of the problem.