Breaking out in a cold sweat can feel weird. What exactly do cold sweats mean? And what should you know about how to treat cold sweats if you ever have them.
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What Does It Mean To Get Cold Sweats?
There’s no medical definition of cold sweats. They’re different from normal sweating, when you sweat from being hot or after exercising.
During a cold sweat, you feel flushed, cool, or cold all over and start to sweat. Your skin feels moist. Your palms may start to sweat.
Sweating is your body’s way of cooling down. It’s part of a system known as thermoregulation — your body’s response to cold or heat stress. Your thermoregulatory system keeps your body’s core temperature within one or two degrees of the average normal body temperature.
For most adults, their normal or baseline body temperature is 98.6 F (or 37 C). Some people have baseline body temperatures that are a bit higher or lower. On any given day, your core temperature depends on your own body, age, activity, and time of day.
Cold sweats are a sign that something isn’t right with how you are feeling. It can signal something related to your physical health or it can signal that something is going on with your mental health.
Here are some common reasons for cold sweats and ways to help prevent them.
Mental Health Reasons for Cold Sweats
Cold sweats often happen as a reaction to stress, anxiety, or panic attacks. It’s a symptom of your “fight or flight” response to a situation you think is dangerous or scary. To manage cold sweats, you first need to learn to manage your stress and anxiety.
How to stop cold sweats during and after an anxiety or panic attack:
- Refocus your thoughts on your surroundings. Observe what you can see, smell, taste, and touch.
- Choose a category (such as countries or animals) and list as many things in the category as you can.
- Slowly count to 10 or recite the alphabet.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Eat a protein-packed snack to help keep your blood sugar from spiking, which can trigger more anxiety.
- Drink cool water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Practice mindfulness meditation and other holistic treatments for anxiety.
Reach out for professional mental health help if your anxiety gets in the way of living your life. Treatment options for anxiety and panic attacks include medications and different types of psychotherapy.
Physical Reasons for Cold Sweats
Several physical health issues can trigger cold sweats. Some of the most common include:
Fever and Infections
Viral and bacterial infections, such as the flu, strep throat, or COVID-19 can cause a fever. When your body temperature increases, it needs to cool down to prevent it from overheating, so you get chills and cold sweats.
Depending on what’s causing your fever, you may need a prescription medication. For bacterial infections, such as strep throat, you may need antibiotics. For viral infections, such as the flu, antivirals may help lessen the severity of symptoms.
To treat fever at home and help with cold sweats you can:
- Take over-the-counter fever reducers, such as NSAIDs (Advil, Aleve, or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Wear lighter clothing.
- Sleep with fewer blankets.
- Use a cool washcloth on your forehead.
- Stay hydrated by drinking cool water or non-alcoholic beverages.
Also known as low blood glucose or low blood sugar, hypoglycemia can trigger cold sweats. Your blood glucose can drop to unhealthy levels if you don’t eat enough or skip meals. It also is a common concern for people with type 1 diabetes and for people with type 2 diabetes who take insulin.
Other warning signs of low blood sugar include:
- Confusion or irritability.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Tremors or jitteriness.
- Excessive sweating.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels can keep you from getting cold sweats and other symptoms of hypoglycemia. To get your blood sugar back to normal and help you feel better, you need to eat a small amount of concentrated sugar. Try one of these:
- A tablespoon of honey or corn syrup.
- A 4-ounce serving of regular soda or non-sugar-free fruit juice.
- A 20-gram serving of carbohydrates.
- A 15-gram glucose supplement.
- An 8-ounce serving of milk.
To prevent low blood sugar, don’t skip meals and follow a healthy diet at mealtime. You may also need to eat more often during the day to keep blood glucose levels from falling too much between meals. If you have diabetes, a blood glucose monitor can help you keep track of your glucose levels.
See your doctor if you continue to have low blood sugar episodes.
You also may feel chilly and sweaty during night sweats. Several things can cause night sweats, including perimenopause, menopause, a hormone imbalance, or nightmares. How to stop and prevent night sweats depends on the trigger.
You should see your doctor if:
- Your night sweats are severe or affect your quality of sleep.
- You have unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or fever.
It may seem strange, but cold, pale, and moist skin are common warning signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion happens when you experience extremely high temperatures and also are dehydrated.
To stop cold sweats and other symptoms of heat exhaustion, follow these tips:
- Move to a cooler location or air-conditioned space.
- Drink cool water or non-alcoholic beverages.
- Change into lighter clothing.
- Apply a cool cloth to your face and body.
- Fan or spray water on yourself.
- Sit or rest.
- Take a cool shower.
Get medical help right away if:
- You are throwing up.
- You are confused or lethargic.
- Symptoms get worse.
- Symptoms last for longer than an hour.
Other issues can cause cold sweats, including medications you take or serious underlying health issues such as HIV or cancer. If your cold sweats continue and you can’t figure out why, you should see your doctor. They can help figure out what’s causing them.
When Cold Sweats Are an Emergency
Get medical help right away if you have cold sweats with other symptoms, including:
- Chest pain or other pain.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Fainting or loss of consciousness.
These could be signs that you are having a heart attack.
A physical injury or shock also can also cause cold sweats. If you sustain an injury and experience cold sweats, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
Thermoregulatory disorders and illness related to heat and cold stress. Autonomic Neuroscience. Link.
Frequently Asked Questions About Extreme Heat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Link.
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