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Skin - clammy

Sweat - cold; Clammy skin; Cold sweat

Clammy skin is cool, moist, and usually pale.

Considerations

Clammy skin may be an emergency. Call your health care provider or your local emergency number, such as 911.

Causes

Causes of clammy skin include:

  • Anxiety attack
  • Heart attack
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Internal bleeding
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Medicine reaction
  • Sepsis (body-wide infection)
  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Severe pain
  • Shock (low blood pressure)

Home Care

Home care depends on what is causing the clammy skin. Call for medical help if you are not sure.

If you think the person is in shock, lie him or her down on the back and raise the legs about 12 inches (30 centimeters). Call your local emergency number (such as 911) or take the person to the hospital.

If the clammy skin may be due to heat exhaustion and the person is awake and can swallow:

  • Have the person drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids
  • Move the person to a cool, shaded place

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek immediate medical help if the person has any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Altered medical status or thinking ability
  • Chest, abdominal, or back pain or discomfort
  • Headache
  • Passage of blood in the stool: black stool, bright red or maroon blood
  • Recurrent or persistent vomiting, especially of blood
  • Possible drug abuse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Signs of shock (such as confusion, lower level of alertness, or weak pulse)

Always contact your doctor or go to the emergency department if the symptoms do not go away quickly.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about the symptoms and the person's medical history, including:

  • How quickly did the clammy skin develop?
  • Has it ever happened before?
  • Has the person been injured?
  • Is the person in pain?
  • Does the person seem anxious or stressed?
  • Has the person recently been exposed to high temperatures?
  • What other symptoms are present?

Tests and treatments may include:

  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

The outlook depends on the cause of the clammy skin. Examination and test results will help determine immediate and long-term outlooks.

References

Brown A. Critical care. In: Cameron P, Jelinek G, Kelly A-M, Brown A, Little M, eds. Textbook of Adult Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 2.

Brown A. Resuscitation. In: Cameron P, Jelinek G, Kelly A-M, Brown A, Little M, eds. Textbook of Adult Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 1.

Marik PE. Endocrinology of the stress response during critical illness. In: Ronco C, Bellomo R, Kellum JA, Ricci Z, eds. Critical Care Nephrology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 76.

Puskarich MA, Jones AE. Shock. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 6.

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        Review Date: 1/12/2019

        Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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