Clammy Hands and Feet

Some people always seem to have cold clammy hands and feet, but they don't know why. There are a few possible explanations, but sometimes it is caused by a condition called hyperhidrosis. Read more to find out about this health condition and how it can cause people to constantly have clammy hands and feet!
Clammy Hands and Feet

The Cause of Clammy Hands and Feet

Up to 20% of the population lives with hands and feet that are perpetually cold. Cold hands and feet are often caused by a condition called Raynaud’s. It causes the body to have an exaggerated response to cold temperatures. For people with Raynaud’s, when the body is exposed to even slightly colder conditions, the blood vessels in the skin begin to contract and shunt blood flow to vital organs, leaving the skin with a pale color and feeling cold. It sounds extreme, but this is a very common ailment, and it is not usually indicative of a larger health problem.[1] For some however, Raynaud’s is the not the cause of their symptoms. A subset of people who experience cold hands and feet also suffer from wet hands and feet. This describes what many refer to as clammy hands and feet. Clammy is defined as “being damp, soft, sticky, and usually cool” and “lacking normal human warmth” in the Merriam Webster dictionary.[2] For those that suffer from clammy extremities there is another physiological explanation: hyperhidrosis.

Here is what you Hyperhidrosisneed to know about hyperhidrosis: Hyperhidrosis is a condition in which people sweat in excess of what is needed for thermoregulation.[3] Thermoregulation is the body’s way of regulating its own internal temperature, even when exposed to cold or hot external environments. So, people with hyperhidrosis will sweat in any environment, whether it is beneficial or not. When people with hyperhidrosis sweat in a cold environment, it creates a perfect situation for clammy hands and feet to develop. Many people who constantly seem to have clammy hands and feet are actually suffering from a type of hyperhidrosis called primary focal hyperhidrosis. This type of hyperhidrosis usually begins during adolescents and it can cause people to sweat profusely from specific body parts, including the hands and feet.[3] This is why a person may have clammy hands or feet but the rest of their body is not effected the same way. There are certain clues a person can check for if they want to tell if they have hyperhidrosis, like excessive sweating in certain areas and sweating that is not in response to any known environmental or physiological triggers.

How Cold Temperature Affects Someone with Hyperhidrosis

For people who don’t suffer from hyperhidrosis, sweating is a normal physiological process that occurs in order to maintain homeostasis. There is a good reason why humans sweat: healthy sweating occurs in response to hot temperatures, as a mechanism to keep the body cool. Sweat can cool the body through a process called transpiration, in which heated sweat is released from the body onto the surface of the skin, which then evaporates into the air. This is important to understand in relation to hyperhidrosis. When a person has hyperhidrosis, they sweat constantly as they have overactive sweat glands. This means that they are often sweating in cold temperatures, when sweating is actually a disadvantage, and so they will often experience clammy hands and feet as a result. They have a constant source of sweat cooling their hands or feet down, which can create some very uncomfortable situations. Another reason that people with hyperhidrosis often sweat from the hands and feet is because there are a high concentration of eccrine (sweat) glands on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. People with hyperhidrosis may also experience excessive sweating of other body parts with a high concentration of eccrine glands like the armpit, forehead, and back. The good news is that primary focal hyperhidrosis is not a dangerous condition, although at times it can be distressing.[3]

  • Over-the-counter topical treatments for hyperhidrosis
  • Iontophoresis for palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis
  • Oral medications for hyperhidrosis
  • Botox treatments for palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis
  • Surgical treatments for primary focal hyperhidrosis
  • Typically, antiperspirants are a good first choice for someone who is just starting treatment for hyperhidrosis. They are noninvasive, inexpensive and easily accessible for patients. If someone is struggling to choose the right over-the-counter antiperspirant, learning about the active ingredients used in antiperspirants or talking to a doctor can help. In order to begin the other forms of treatment that are listed above, a person would need to manage their hyperhidrosis with a doctor. Each treatment has benefits and drawbacks, and a dermatologist can help an individual with hyperhidrosis figure out which treatment options work for them.[4]

    There are other ways to manage clammy hands and feet that don’t involve medical treatments. Some practical habits can reduce the amount of sweating experienced by those with hyperhidrosis. One of these is to wear shoes that do not promote sweating and picking absorbent socks that will keep moisture away from the feet. It can be a little trickier to deal with sweaty hands, but some find that using antiperspirant wipes and keeping a handkerchief, or other absorbent cloth, in their pocket is useful. There is a clear correlation between stress triggers and the sweating that is experienced by those with primary focal hyperhidrosis.[3] Some people may find that practicing anxiety reduction methods that can reduce sweating can be beneficial in limiting the amount of sweat they produce.

    Not all cases of clammy hands and feet are caused by hyperhidrosis, but for those cases that are, there is hope! Most people can significantly reduce their symptoms and live a more comfortable life.

    Sources
    1. Robb-Nicholson, C. (2000). By the way, doctor. Harvard Women's Health Watch, 7(6). doi:106091214
    2. Definition of Clammy. (2018). Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clammy
    3. Huddle, J. R. (2014). Hyperhidrosis: Causes, Treatment Options and Outcomes. New York, NY: Nova Science.
    4. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
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