Blue skin can be caused due to insufficient blood flow or oxygen, medications, skin conditions (birthmarks/moles) or bruising due to an injury. Learn more.
Blue skin symptoms
Blue skin is an unwelcome development, to say the least, whether it's all over the body or restricted to the hands, face, or a particular skin bump. It can arise early or late in life and may come and go or be present all the time, depending on the cause. In many cases, removing the factor that caused the discoloration or undergoing medical treatment will allow the skin to return to its normal color.
Common accompanying symptoms of blue skin
If you're experiencing blue skin, it's also likely to experience:
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Causes of blue skin
Insufficient blood flow
If not enough blood is being delivered to the extremities, the resulting lack of oxygen can cause the skin to turn blue.
- Blood vessel constriction: Intermittent constriction of small blood vessels in the extremities can cause blue skin. This may be triggered in the hands by exposure to the cold, in which case the skin will turn first white, then blue, then red (Raynaud's disease).
- Arterial blockage: A clot blocking an artery can stop blood from flowing to an extremity, such as one of the feet.
In some conditions, blue skin occurs because the blood is carrying an abnormally low amount of oxygen.
- Heart conditions: Structural abnormalities in the heart can cause blood with low oxygen content to be pumped to the rest of the body instead of entering the lungs to pick up oxygen. Inherited conditions are commonly diagnosed in infancy or early childhood.
- Respiratory conditions: If the lungs are not functioning correctly, the body will not be able to get all of the oxygen it needs. This could be caused by an acute problem or an exacerbation of a chronic condition such as COPD.
- High altitude: The lower oxygen content in the air at high altitudes can cause a condition characterized by bluish skin, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
- Abnormal hemoglobin: Hemoglobin is the molecule that carries most of the oxygen in the blood. It can take on an abnormal and less functional form, resulting in decreased oxygen delivery to the body.
Medications or supplements
Certain medications or supplements may result in blue skin, such as the following.
- Amiodarone: This medication is used for certain heart conditions and can cause blue skin in areas that are exposed to the sun.
- Silver colloid: Taking silver colloid for a long period of time can cause silver to deposit in the skin, resulting in a blue color, particularly in areas that are exposed to the sun.
Certain skin conditions may have a bluish appearance.
- Birthmarks: Some types of skin marks that are present early in life have a blue color.
- Moles: Some moles have a bluish appearance.
A fall or bump can result in a bruise, where small blood vessels are damaged and leak blood (ecchymosis). The blood initially appears as a bluish color under the skin.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (copd) exacerbation
A COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbation is a worsening of your COPD, causing you to struggle for breathe. This is often caused by an infection in the lungs.
Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, worsening cough, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Severe asthma attack
A severe asthma attack makes it incredibly hard to breathe and is a medical emergency. If possible, use a rescue inhaler ASAP.
Top Symptoms: being severely ill, shortness of breath at rest, wheezing, irritability, cough with dry or watery sputum
Symptoms that always occur with severe asthma attack: shortness of breath at rest, being severely ill
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Bacterial pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by one of several different bacteria, often Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia is often contracted in hospitals or nursing homes.
Symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills, painful and difficult breathing, and cough that brings up mucus. Elderly patients may have low body temperature and confusion.
Pneumonia can be a medical emergency for very young children or those over age 65, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system or a chronic heart or lung condition. Emergency room is only needed for severe cases or for those with immune deficiency.
Diagnosis is made through blood tests and chest x-ray.
With bacterial pneumonia, the treatment is antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. Hospitalization may be necessary for higher-risk cases.
Some types of bacterial pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination. Flu shots help, too, by preventing another illness from taking hold. Keep the immune system healthy through good diet and sleep habits, not smoking, and frequent handwashing.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia: cough
Urgency: In-person visit
Aspiration Pneumonia occurs when food, saliva, liquids, or vomit is breathed into the lungs or airways leading to the lungs, causing an infection.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, fever, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart abruptly stops beating. In media portrayals, SCA classically occurs after a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction. While heart attacks are a common cause of SCA, in real life they are just one of many etiologie..
Interstitial lung disease
Interstitial lung disease is a group of lung disorders in which the deep lung tissues become inflamed and build up scar tissue (similar to a scab which develops on skin after a cut). Because of the scarring, the lung becomes stiff, eventually affecting ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
Top Symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fingers looking plump
Symptoms that always occur with interstitial lung disease: dry cough
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Foreign body aspiration
Foreign body aspiration can be a life-threatening emergency. An aspirated solid or semisolid object may lodge in the larynx or trachea. If the object is large enough to cause nearly complete obstruction of the airway, asphyxia may rapidly cause death.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: cough, fever, shortness of breath, cough with dry or watery sputum, wheezing
Symptoms that always occur with foreign body aspiration: swallowing of something potentially harmful
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways. Mucus builds up in these airways and can get infected, causing a pneumonia.
Top Symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
Urgency: Primary care doctor
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Blue skin treatments and relief
When blue skin is an emergency
Many causes of blue skin can be addressed at a regular appointment rather than in the emergency room. However, you may need urgent treatment, such as supplemental oxygen, if there is insufficient oxygen in your blood. In addition, if your blue skin is caused by interrupted blood flow to an extremity, immediate treatment is necessary to avoid permanent damage or even loss of the limb. Blue skin is also an emergency if:
- You have sudden-onset blue discoloration of an extremity: Particularly if the extremity is also painful or tingly
- Your lips or tongue have turned blue
- You are experiencing chest pain
- You are having difficulty breathing
- You have headache, confusion, or dizziness
When to see a doctor for blue skin
In some cases, even though emergency treatment isn't necessary, you may need medical evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:
- You are bruising more easily than usual or without any known injury
- You have started any new medications recently
- Your hands are becoming discolored whenever they get cold
- You have a previously diagnosed heart or respiratory condition
- You have a blue mole that has changed in color, shape, or size
Medical treatments for blue skin
Your medical provider may prescribe one of the following treatments, depending on the cause of the blue skin symptoms:
- Stopping a medication that could be causing the blue skin
- Starting a medication to improve blood flow to the hands
- Adding or adjusting treatment for an underlying chronic medical condition
- Referral to a specialist as needed for a heart or respiratory condition
- Removal of a mole
At-home treatments for blue skin
You may be able to find relief from some causes of blue skin with these home remedies.
- Avoid the cold if you find that it is causing your hands to turn blue
- Descend to a lower location if you recently arrived somewhere with a high altitude
- Cut down on smoking or quit altogether
- Use ice or compression: These can help prevent swelling if you have a bruise.
FAQs about blue skin
Can you turn blue from colloidal silver?
Some people use colloidal silver as a supplement, but it has no effective medical use and may be harmful. Taking colloidal silver over a long period of time can cause blue skin (argyria), typically in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the face. This occurs because silver builds up within the skin. Unfortunately, the blue color is usually permanent, even after you stop taking the colloidal silver.
Is blue skin hereditary?
Blue skin can be inherited in a condition called methemoglobinemia. In hereditary methemoglobinemia, there is a genetic mutation in some of the bodys hemoglobin, the molecule that carries most of the bloods oxygen. This results in an abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood, causing the skin to appear bluish. People with this condition may experience symptoms when exercising, such as headaches and shortness of breath, due to the lower oxygen level in the blood.
Can you prevent developing blue skin?
Some causes of blue skin are preventable. Avoid colloidal silver, which has no medical purpose. Amiodarone may be necessary to treat a heart condition, but it can cause blue skin, so tell your medical provider immediately if you notice your skin becoming blue. If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that can cause intermittent blue skin, you may be able to avoid particular situations that will cause your skin to change color.
Why is my bruise blue?
Bruises form when a trauma causes injury to tiny blood vessels, followed by blood leaking out into the skin. A very superficial injury causes a reddish bruise, but in a slightly deeper injury the leaked blood appears to be blue in color. As the injury heals and blood is broken down into its components, the color of the bruise changes to yellow or green.
Why are my hands blue?
Your hands can turn blue due to a low level of oxygen in the body, caused by a problem with the lungs or heart. Seek emergency treatment if you are having difficulty breathing, or if your tongue and lips are also blue. If your hands turned blue after exposure to the cold, you may have a condition called Raynauds phenomenon. In this case the hands turn white, then blue, then red. Raynauds phenomenon can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, so it is important to see a medical provider.
- Hadjiliadis D. Blue Discoloration of the Skin. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 21, 2017. MedlinePlus Link.
- Raynaud's. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Link.
- Colloidal Silver. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Updated April 2017. NCCIH Link.
- Blue Skin and Lips (Cyanosis). nidirect. Published January 2018. nidirect Link.
- LoCicero R. Methemoglobinemia. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated April 2, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.