Sticky or clammy skin can be caused by a variety of problems, some of which require emergency medical care. The moistness of sticky skin is the result of sweating.
Any number of things can cause you to sweat excessively, from shock or a heart attack to an infection or a panic attack. To relieve the clamminess, the underlying cause needs to be treated. If the cause could be life-threatening, seek medical help right away.
Clammy, sticky, or moist skin may have any number of causes. However, several of these can be life-threatening:
- heart conditions, such as a heart attack, heart failure, endocarditis (which is an infection in the heart), or structural damage in the heart
- shock, which can be caused by a heart problem, low blood volume, sepsis, an allergic reaction, or nerve damage
- hypoxemia, or low oxygen levels in the blood — which may be caused by a blocked airway, certain medications, pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism, emphysema, or heart defects
- internal bleeding
- heat exhaustion
- bites from animals or insects, due to the pain, the shock, or the venom they produce
Many different types of infections, which may be treatable, lead to fevers in the body as well as clammy skin:
There are other common causes of sticky and clammy skin that don’t necessarily require emergency treatment:
- panic attacks
- hypotension, or low blood pressure
- hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar levels
- hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid (which can turn life-threatening if it becomes severe quickly)
- hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome may also be a less common cause of clammy skin. This occurs when someone who is addicted to alcohol feels a variety of symptoms, including sticky skin, after suddenly stopping drinking.
Treatment for clammy or sticky skin depends on the underlying cause. Emergency situations require immediate medical attention. This includes heart attacks, shock, heat exhaustion, internal bleeding, and venomous or severe bites.
Some of the infections that cause clamminess can be treated, such as those from bacteria. Others, like influenza and mononucleosis, must simply run their course, although treatment for symptoms is possible with over-the-counter medications.
Other possible causes of clammy skin may be treatable but require a diagnosis from your doctor. If you’re experiencing sticky skin and you have no explanation for it, see your doctor.
If you or someone near you is experiencing clamminess along with these other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- chest pain
- a rapid heartbeat
- difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- swelling in the mouth, face, or throat
- a weak pulse or a rapid pulse
- blue fingernails and lips
- loss of consciousness
Many of the causes of sticky skin aren’t life-threatening and are treatable. Many infections run their course or can be cleared up with treatment, especially when caught early. Panic attack disorders can be treated with counseling and medication. Conditions like hypotension, hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, and menopause can be managed and symptoms reduced by lifestyle changes or medication.
When clammy skin is the result of a life-threatening incident, the outlook depends on reaction time and when emergency medical professionals can start treatment. If they can administer treatment in time for a heart attack, shock, bleeding, heat exhaustion, or bites, it’s possible to make a full recovery.