Clammy skin feels moist and cool. A person with clammy skin may also look pale.

Exertion or being in the heat can cause sweating, which could lead to clammy skin. While these instances aren't necessarily concerning, there are situations when clammy skin can be a symptom of various medical conditions and a sign of a medical emergency.

This article will discuss possible causes of clammy skin, what can be done to address it, and how to know if clammy skin signals a serious medical concern.

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Common Causes of Clammy Skin

Clammy skin can have many causes. Some of the conditions associated with clammy skin include:

Overheating/Heat Exhaustion

Clammy skin can occur from normal sweating when a person is hot. Sweating is a way for the body to regulate heat.

A person who is too hot may be experiencing heat exhaustion, which is more serious than simply feeling hot. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include:

  • Clammy skin
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, weakness, and/or fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Rapid and/or shallow breathing
  • Fainting


Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating, typically of the hands, feet, and/or forehead. The sweating occurs regardless of environmental temperature and can lead to soft, white, or peeling skin.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) occurs when the sugar in the bloodstream drops below normal levels. Sweating and clammy hands are potential side effects of low blood sugar.

Anxiety Attack

An anxiety attack includes symptoms of shortness of breath, heart palpitations, uncontrollable thoughts, feelings of panic, and clammy hands.

Other Possible Causes of Clammy Skin

Clammy skin can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as:

  • Severe pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood oxygen
  • Symptoms of withdrawal
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Alcohol overdose
  • Adrenal cancer
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)
  • Acute pancreatitis
  • Sepsis
  • Shock
  • Cardiac or respiratory distress

How to Treat Clammy Skin

Addressing clammy skin involves treating the underlying cause of the symptom.

When Clammy Skin Is a Sign of a Medical Emergency

If you experience clammy skin as a symptom of sepsis, shock, or cardiac distress, seek immediate medical attention.

Treating Clammy Skin Caused by Heat Exhaustion

For heat exhaustion:

  • Go to a shaded or air-conditioned area.
  • Sip cool, nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages.
  • Loosen or remove as much clothing as you can.
  • Take a cool shower or sponge bath.
  • Spray yourself with cool water and sit in front of a fan.
  • Watch for signs of heatstroke, which is a medical emergency.

Clammy Skin and Cardiac or Respiratory Distress

Seek immediate emergency care for symptoms that suggest cardiac or respiratory distress. Typically, treatment will be given at the hospital. The course of treatment depends on the cause of the distress but may include measures such as medication and/or surgery.

How Do You Treat Clammy Skin Caused by Shock?

Shock is a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of shock.

If you think someone may be in shock:

  • Call 911.
  • Lay the person down on their back (if possible, on a rug or blanket).
  • Raise their legs about 12 inches (a chair can be used to support them).
  • If you can, address the cause of the shock (such as severe bleeding).
  • Loosen tight clothing, especially around the neck, chest, and waist.
  • Cover them with a coat or blanket to keep them warm.
  • Reassure them and help keep them calm.

Treating Clammy Skin Caused by Sepsis

Sepsis requires immediate medical attention and is treated in a hospital setting.

The infection is treated with antibiotics, and fluids are given intravenously (by IV). Other medications may be given to raise blood pressure.

Vital signs such as blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate, and pulse rate will also be monitored.

Sepsis may require a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Hyperhidrosis and Clammy Skin

Treatment options for hyperhidrosis may include:

  • Antiperspirants
  • Oral medicines
  • Botox injections
  • Iontophoresis (low-voltage electrical therapy)
  • Surgery

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Clammy Skin?

To look for the cause of clammy skin, the healthcare provider will consider the other symptoms and do a physical examination.

They may also run tests including:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, or EKG) to record the heart's electrical activity

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

Seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if you or someone near you has cardiac or respiratory distress, shock, or sepsis symptoms.

Other symptoms accompanying clammy skin that may indicate the need for immediate medical care include:

  • Headache
  • Altered medical status or thinking ability
  • Abdominal, check, or back pain/discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in the stool (black stool, bright red blood, or maroon blood)
  • Persistent or recurrent vomiting and/or vomiting containing blood (may look like coffee grounds)
  • Possible drug use
  • Hives and/or skin rash
  • Swelling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Signs of heatstroke
  • Symptoms that are not getting better quickly or are getting worse

If you aren't sure if the situation is urgent, seek care to be sure.


Clammy skin is moist, cool, and often pale. It can signify many conditions, including heat exhaustion, cardiac or respiratory distress, shock, sepsis, and hyperhidrosis.

Shock, sepsis, and cardiac/respiratory distress are medical emergencies. Call 911 if you or someone near you is experiencing signs of these conditions.

Heat exhaustion can usually be treated at home unless symptoms are persistent, severe, or escalate to signs of heatstroke. Hyperhidrosis is not typically an emergency and can be discussed with your healthcare provider during a booked appointment.

By Heather Jones

Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability,
and feminism. 

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