Read below about cold skin, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your cold skin from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Cold Skin Symptoms

Coldness is defined as the condition of being of or at a low temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C), and the human body has various mechanisms in place that regulate this body temperature and prevent the body from becoming too cold or too hot.

Cold skin that is chronic and persistent can be a sign of sensitivity to cold temperatures and an inability of the body to regulate mechanisms against cold. Depending on the environment you are in, cold skin can also be a sign that the body is losing heat faster than it can produce. Regardless of the specific situation, cold skin symptoms should be followed up with professional medical attention.

People with cold skin symptoms may also experience:

  • Feeling cold despite the weather, and often feeling cold when others around them feel comfortable.
  • Cold skin only in specific parts of the body such as the hands or feet
  • Cold skin that does not resolve despite adding extra layers of clothing
  • Shivering
  • Weak pulse
  • Low energy

Call 911 immediately especially if you experience excessive shivering. Once you develop symptoms of weak pulse and fatigue, you may find it difficult to think clearly and get the appropriate care.

Cold Skin Causes Overview

Temperature regulation (or thermoregulation) is controlled by different parts of the body including the hypothalamus (brain), thyroid gland, body fat, blood vessels and skin [1,2]. These components work together to control body temperature. Cold skin can occur when there is dysregulation or imbalance in any of these components. It is important to see your doctor in order to find the cause of your cold skin symptoms.

Central causes:

  • The brain is the central control center for body temperature. Central causes of coldness result from dysregulation in these brain processes. For example, disorders of the hypothalamus can cause coldness because the body cannot mount proper responses.

Metabolic causes:

There are multiple metabolic processes in place that maintain proper body temperature.

  • Hormone synthesis: The thyroid gland makes hormones that allow your body to burn calories and create heat and fuel. A malfunctioning thyroid that does not produce enough hormone (hypothyroidism) can cause such cold skin symptoms.
  • Fat synthesis: Fat is necessary to maintain the heat your body creates. Any condition that significantly decreases your body fat, such as anorexia, can lead to cold skin because your body has no means of maintaining the heat it creates

Environmental causes:

Cold skin related to environmental triggers such as exposure to cold weather or water can disrupt the body's natural mechanisms and/or put the body at risk for losing heat when exposed to cold situations. This is hypothermia and is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention [3,4].

  • Cold weather or water: Many people often underestimate how such conditions can affect the body. Any water that is less than normal body temperature can cause rapid heat loss. Most people cannot willingly stand such temperatures for prolonged periods of time and will get out of the water when it becomes unbearable. However, for those finding themselves stranded in a large body of water, quick escape is often not an option.
  • Inappropriate attire: Wearing clothes that aren't warm enough for weather or water conditions can easily cause coldness. Conversely, being unable to remove wet clothes promptly and change into warm clothes can cause coldness and shivering symptoms as well.
  • Inappropriate living conditions: Houses that are improperly heated during wintertime can cause these symptoms in at risk populations such as infants and the elderly.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Cold Skin

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced cold skin. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Diabetic Hypoglycemia

    Hypoglycemia (severely low blood sugar) can occur in Type 1 (more common) and Type 2 Diabetes. It is usually caused by poorly timed use of blood-sugar-controlling medication.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, anxiety, dizziness, racing heart beat
    Symptoms that always occur with diabetic hypoglycemia:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Cold Skin Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cold skin.

    Cold Skin Quiz
  3. 3.Mild Hypothermia

    Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature lower than 95 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 degrees Celcius.

    With treatment, symptoms resolve within days.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, coldness, pale skin, turning blue or purple from coldness, shivering
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  4. 4.Moderate to Severe Hypothermia

    With prolonged exposure to freezing cold, the body can lose the ability to maintain a safe core temperature. If this continues for long enough, you can become confused or even lose consciousness

    If hypothermia is severe enough, death or permanent disability can occur

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    coldness, alertness level change, pale skin, slow heartrate (under 60bpm)
    Symptoms that never occur with moderate to severe hypothermia:
    shivering
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  5. 5.Sepsis

    Sepsis is a serious illness that is caused by the body's reaction to an infection and cause system-wide inflammation.

    Uncertain

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, shortness of breath, fever, feeling confused and not making sense while talking, abnormally high heartrate
    Symptoms that always occur with sepsis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

Cold Skin Treatments and Relief

At home cold skin remedies such as using a heater or wearing warmer clothes often do not work for people with chronic cold skin. Most causes of cold skin require that you see a physician promptly in order to get appropriate evaluation and treatment.

If your cold skin is a symptom of an underlying condition, your treatment will depend on the cause.

After determining the cause of your cold intolerance your doctor may suggest:

  • Hormone replacement: Hormones are key players in the regulation of body temperature. If your cold intolerance is due to hormone imbalance, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate hormone(s) to get your body back on track.
  • Surgery: Infrequently,some central causes of cold intolerance – such as compression of the hypothalamus by a mass – may require surgical removal.
  • Rehabilitation program: If your cold intolerance is related to conditions that have significantly decreased body fat percentage, your doctor may suggest a rehabilitation program to help you gain weight safely and healthily.

If your cold skin is a symptom of environmental triggers, there are many preventative measures you can take to prevent your body temperature from going too low.

The acronym COLD– cover, overexertion, layers, dry – is an excellent way to remember the different methods you can use to protect yourself and family from hypothermia.

  • Cover: Wear a hat or other protective clothing to prevent body heat from escaping the head, face and neck. Use mittens instead of gloves to cover your hands [5].
  • Overexertion: In cold weather, avoid activities like running or jumping that cause sweating. The combination of wet clothing and cold weather can cause your body to lose heat more quickly.
  • Layers: Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in layers. Outer clothing made of tightly woven, water-repellent material is best for wind protection. For inner layers, choose materials such as wool, silk or polypropylene – these materials hold body heat better than cotton does [5].
  • Dry: Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible and try to stay as dry as possible. Pay special attention to your hands and feet, as these body parts can easily get wet again.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Cold Skin

  • Q.Are you experiencing unusually quick or severe fatigue when doing physical activity or exercising?
  • Q.Are you short for your age?
  • Q.Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our cold skin symptom checker to find out more.

Cold Skin Quiz

Cold Skin Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced cold skin have also experienced:

    • 6% Fatigue
    • 3% Nausea
    • 2% Headache
  • People who have experienced cold skin were most often matched with:

    • 40% Diabetic Hypoglycemia
    • 40% Mild Hypothermia
    • 20% Hypothyroidism
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having cold skin

Cold Skin Quiz

References

  1. Osilla EV, Sharma S. Physiology, Temperature Regulation. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2018. NCBI Link.
  2. Romanovsky AA. Skin Temperature: Its Role in Thermoregulation. Acta Physiologica (Oxford England). 2014;210(3):498-507. NCBI Link.
  3. Paal P, Gordon L, Strapazzon G, et al. Accidental Hypothermia - An Update. Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation & Emergency Medicine. 2016;24(1):111. NCBI Link.
  4. McCullough L, Arora S. Diagnosis and Treatment of Hypothermia. American Family Physician. 2004;70(12):2325-2332. AAFP Link.
  5. Hypothermia. Mayo Clinic. Published January 6, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link.