What Can Cause Clammy Skin? How to Stop It

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

Frequent causes of clammy skin include anxiety, low blood sugar, pain, low blood oxygen levels, hot flashes, and thyroid conditions. Fever, stress, or a sweating disorder also can make skin clammy. Clammy skin is usually damp to the touch. The skin may be paler than usual, but this varies and may appear differently on different skin tones.

This article explains causes and treatment options for clammy skin. This article also gives symptoms that may occur alongside clammy skin and lists potential complications.

Being too hot

a person with clammy skin is clasping their hands together
Marco Govel/Stocksy United

Probably the most common reason for having clammy skin is being overheated, or too hot. When you are too hot, your body releases sweat through sweat glands. As the sweat evaporates, the body cools down. This can result in clammy skin that feels cold to the touch even if you are too hot.

Stress

Stress is a common cause of clammy skin. In response to stress, your body releases norepinephrine, which activates sweat glands called the apocrine sweat glands. The resulting sweating causes clammy skin. The same is true for clammy skin due to:

Read our stress management tips.

Fever

If you have a fever, you may experience clammy skin or excessive sweating. Other fever symptoms include:

  • feeling warm to the touch
  • looking flushed in the face
  • having eyes that appear “glassy”
  • experiencing chills

You will usually notice an improvement in your fever as your body heals from the infection. However, if fever persists or worsens, seek medical advice.

Learn more about fever.

COVID-19

Sweating, including night sweats, is a known symptom of COVID-19. Sweating may be the result of the infection or the high fever that some people experience with it.

If you experience cold, clammy, mottled skin alongside the following symptoms, you may be experiencing severe COVID-19.

  • breathlessness at rest
  • losing consciousness
  • blue or pale skin
  • chest pain or pressure for more than 10 minutes
  • feeling confused
  • not passing enough urine
  • noticing blood as you cough

In this case, seek emergency medical attention.

Learn the treatment options for COVID-19.

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can cause a person to sweat excessively, leading to clammy skin. Other symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • feeling hungry
  • feeling drowsy or confused
  • feeling weak or faint
  • suddenly losing responsiveness

If a person with low blood sugar does not receive treatment, the situation can become a medical emergency. The person should quickly consume sugary drinks or foods. Seek medical attention immediately if their condition does not improve.

Learn what to eat with low blood sugar.

Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is a condition of excessive sweating. It most commonly affects the:

  • armpits
  • palms of the hands
  • soles of the feet
  • face

About 3% of people living in the United States have hyperhidrosis.

Several topical and oral treatments are available for mild to moderate cases of hyperhidrosis. These include topical aluminum chloride and oral anticholinergic medications. Injections and surgical options for more severe cases include Botox injections or surgically cutting certain nerve chains.

Learn when to see a doctor for excessive sweating.

Hot flashes

Some people experience hot flashes during or after menopause. Hot flashes can happen during sleeping or waking hours. They can cause clammy skin.

There are several lifestyle changes you can try before looking into medical options. These include:

  • dressing in layers
  • using a portable fan
  • avoiding certain foods and drinks, such as:
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • trying mindfulness, such as meditation

Learn to treat more menopause symptoms.

Overactive thyroid

Having an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, can cause excessive sweating and lead to clammy skin. Hyperthyroidism increases your metabolism, which heats the skin slightly. This can make you sweat and make your skin feel moist to the touch.

Other symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:

Learn to talk with your doctor about treating overactive thyroid.

Heart failure

Excess sweating and clammy skin can also be an early sign of heart failure. The sweating is usually profuse. Other signs of heart failure include:

If you or someone you are with experience signs of heart failure, seek medical care immediately.

Learn first aid for a heart attack.

Other causes

Other causes of clammy skin or excessive sweating include:

How might doctors diagnose clammy skin?

To diagnose the cause of your clammy skin, your doctor may ask you these questions:

  • When did you first notice you had clammy skin?
  • Are you having 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?

Your doctor may then send you for further tests.

What other symptoms might occur with clammy skin?

Clammy skin may accompany other symptoms of an underlying disease, disorder, or condition. Conditions 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 symptoms of problems with the cardiovascular system. These symptoms include:

  • cyanosis, bluish coloration of the lips, fingernails, and mucous membranes
  • chest pain or pressure
  • weak pulse or rapid, weak pulse

Other symptoms that may occur along with clammy skin

Clammy skin may accompany symptoms related to problems with other body systems, including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition

In some cases, clammy skin may be a symptom of a life threatening condition. This should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, has any of these life threatening symptoms:

  • cyanosis, bluish coloration of the lips, fingernails, and mucous membranes
  • chest pain or pressure
  • confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
  • difficulty breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • weak pulse or rapid, weak pulse

What are the potential complications of clammy skin?

Clammy skin usually results from non-life-threatening causes, such as stress or a minor infection.

However, serious conditions may cause clammy skin. Not seeking treatment can result in severe complications and permanent damage, including:

  • Cardiogenic shock: Heart damage and ineffective heart function cause cardiogenic shock.
  • Hypovolemic shock: Loss of fluid, leading to low blood volumes, causes hypovolemic shock.
  • Septic shock: Widespread infection may lead to septic shock.

Contact a doctor if you experience persistent sweating or concerning or worsening symptoms. After an underlying cause is diagnosed, follow your treatment plan to reduce the risk of potential complications.

Summary

Clammy skin occurs when your skin turns cooler than normal and is moist, despite a cooler surface temperature. It is often pale.

Adrenaline can prompt a decrease in the blood flow to peripheral areas of the body, such as the appendages and skin, in order to redirect more blood to the vital organs. This causes cool and clammy skin.

Being too hot, stress, infection, and thyroid disorders may cause clammy skin.

Clammy skin may be a symptom of a serious condition. If you notice other symptoms alongside your clammy skin, or if symptoms persistent or worsen, seek medical attention.

Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Dec 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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