Sweating is a normal biological reaction to heat. When sweat evaporates from the skin, there is a cooling effect on the body.
But there are different types of sweating, each with unique causes and characteristics.
For example, close to 5% of the total American population deals with excessive sweating. This is a medical condition known as hyperhidrosis. It can begin in childhood or later in life for a variety of reasons.
When a person complains about excessive perspiration at night, despite normal room and sleeping conditions, the problem could be night sweats.
Conversely, if a person complains about chills and excess sweat, they could be dealing with cold sweats.
Medically, the term for cold sweats is diaphoresis. These types of sweats are unique. They tend to happen in the absence of normal sweat triggers like heat, exercise, or humidity.
In fact, many cases of diaphoresis are triggered by physiological and psychological factors.
At some point in a person’s lifetime, a few instances of cold sweating will occur. This is also normal. During diaphoresis, symptoms include:
- Cold or chilly sensations
- Very pale skin
- Moist skin
Cold sweats appear on people’s hands, armpits, and the soles of their feet.
When they happen in isolation, they are not considered a health concern. But sudden cold sweats paired with specific symptoms need immediate medical attention.
Are Cold Sweats Different From Night Sweats?
The short answer to the above question is yes. Night sweats are also referred to as sleep hyperhidrosis.
People with this condition find themselves waking up in the middle of the night soaked in sweat.
This disruptive state usually happens unprovoked. Night sweats can happen to people sleeping naked inside a cool room.
Night sweats present as a coating of sweat spread all over the entire body. Comparatively, cold sweats are more localized.
Causes of Cold Sweats
Cold sweats are a result of limited blood flow throughout the body. Any condition that triggers pain, intense stress, or fear can cause a cold sweat breakout.
From the beginning of evolution, mankind has relied on the fight or flight response to stay alive. Early man used this defense mechanism to determine whether to run away or defend himself against unsafe foods, predators, and enemies.
Nowadays, so many situations can still trigger intense episodes of diaphoresis. They include:
- Traffic jams
- Extremely stressful situations like public speaking
- Violent attacks
- Suffocating spaces
Everyone has a unique response to stress. Yet certain characteristics are common to most people. For instance, in stressful situations, your heart rate will increase. You may also experience:
- Very shallow breathing,
- Sudden dry mouth,
- Clammy hands, and
- Cold sweats.
Here Are Some Conditions That Trigger the Fight or Flight Reaction:
Fainting, also known as syncope, is the abrupt state of losing consciousness.
The brain reacts to low oxygen supply or low blood pressure by completely shutting down.
Due to lack of oxygen, a person suffering from low blood pressure gets cold sweats shortly before they pass out.
The following conditions can lead to low oxygen supply in the brain:
- Severe dehydration
- Venous insufficiency
Cold sweats followed by sudden fainting spells could be a sign of a serious medical condition. Certified medical attention is always advised.
Certain thyroid disorders affecting the sweat glands cause cold sweats.
Some medications can trigger hormonal imbalances which cause cold sweating as a side effect. The same applies to certain environmental conditions.
Hormone fluctuations are also common during milestone periods such as:
- Adolescence, and
During perimenopause and menopause, women can go through diaphoresis. They can additionally experience both hot flushes and night sweats.
Cold sweats commonly appear during anxiety attacks, when the brain becomes overwhelmed by stress, triggering a panic response.
This extreme stress results in low blood pressure, cutting off the precious oxygen supply to vital organs.
Generalized social anxiety and panic disorder are the main conditions that cause this reaction.
Extended anxiety attacks have negative effects on people’s long-term health. Their quality of life may be compromised if the situation is not managed.
The best solution for cold sweats related to anxiety is to address the triggers. For some people, self-soothing tools and practices may be insufficient.
The best option for chronic anxiety is consulting a professional mental health caregiver.
Cold sweats are linked to low blood sugar levels. For people with diabetes, this is a potentially life-threatening situation.
The human brain reacts to a state of low blood sugar by releasing cold sweat and in some cases, fainting.
Eating a light snack or drinking fruit juice or other beverages loaded with natural sugar usually resolves low blood sugar levels.
It is important to note, however, that repeated low blood sugar levels or fainting are not healthy. This is the body’s way of asking for (medical) help.
Shock and Pain
Extreme cases of pain always trigger the fight or flight response in the body.
It could be the result of:
- An accident,
- A violent attack, or
- A migraine.
Low blood supply also leads to a state of shock. The signs of shock are critical. A person in shock needs urgent first aid and must be immediately taken to an emergency room.
Symptoms of shock include:
- Very cold, clammy skin
- Extremely pale complexion
- Chest pain
- Vertigo or lightheadedness
- Extreme distress
- Bluish lips or fingernails
- Low or no urine
- Excessive sweating
- Increased pulse
- Loss of consciousness
When cells and organs lack proper oxygen and nutrients, they suffer irreversible damage.
Shock symptoms should, therefore, be treated as a matter of life and death.
Alcohol or Drug Withdrawal
Drug dependency directly influences brain function. As a result, it affects the body.
Cold sweats are one of the side effects associated with withdrawal from drug and alcohol dependency.
Symptoms of withdrawal sometimes show up as soon as four hours after a person’s last known drug usage. In some cases, these symptoms last beyond 12 hours, depending on a person’s level of dependence.
When the brain lacks the neurochemicals it has grown used to, it sets off the fight or flight reaction.
The brain also responds to withdrawal as it would during a serious case of the flu. Therefore, apart from diaphoresis, patients may present other symptoms, such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body aches
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep problems
- Cardiac problems
When the immune system battles with a tough infection, it puts the body in a constant state of panic.
Very serious cases of infection are referred to as sepsis. Sepsis can be severe enough to cause both diaphoresis and shock in the body. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis usually cause cold sweating.
Septic shock is common in specific demographics including:
- Elderly people
- Very young children or infants
- Patients in the ICU or HDU
- Diabetes or cirrhosis patients
- Patients using intravenous devices
- People living with compromised immunities
- People with very extreme wounds or injuries like burns
- People reporting recent use of either antibiotics or corticosteroids
Dealing With Cold Sweats
To eliminate cold sweats, deal with the underlying condition with the help of a professional primary health practitioner.
The following approaches may provide relief:
- Making healthier diet choices
- Sustaining healthy BMIs
- Proper hydration
- Wearing sweat proof garments
- Keeping skin clean and dry
- Frequent showers
- Hormone therapy
- Prescription antiperspirants
- Yoga and meditation
- Stress management
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Daily physical exercise
Almost everyone experiences both normal and isolated cases of extreme sweating. Many cases are not health-related, as explained in this article.
Regardless, not too many people are fond of sweat stains or smells.
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