It’s a common and frustrating problem – your feet are icy cold yet clammy or sweaty at the same time. What gives? Why can your feet feel like blocks of ice yet be damp with perspiration?
As it turns out, there are a few potential explanations for this uncomfortable and perplexing combination of symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at why your feet might be sweaty while cold.
One major cause of simultaneously cold and sweaty feet is simply poor circulation. Your feet are far from your heart and have to work against gravity, so circulation is already challenged. If you also have any underlying conditions that restrict blood flow, like peripheral artery disease or diabetes, your feet will struggle to get ample warm blood.
Since your feet aren’t getting enough circulating warm blood, they feel extremely cold. But at the same time, your sweat glands are still producing moisture. With poor circulation, that sweat accumulates on your skin rather than being whisked away. The result is clammy, sweaty feet even though your feet themselves feel frozen.
Nerve damage, or neuropathy, can also make your feet cold yet sweaty. Neuropathy is common in people with diabetes but can also result from certain toxins, autoimmune diseases, infections, and other conditions.
With neuropathy, nerves are damaged or start malfunctioning. This impairs their ability to properly regulate blood flow and sweat production. Your feet end up getting confusing crosstalk signals, making them cold from constricted blood vessels yet excessively sweaty from overactive sweat glands. The nerves aren’t coordinating things properly.
Athlete’s foot and other fungal infections thrive in the damp, dark environment inside shoes. If you have a fungal infection between your toes or on your soles, it can cause sweating and make your feet feel cold. The infection leads to inflammation, which can impair circulation. The skin may also be irritated and producing more sweat. Fungi can directly interfere with proper thermoregulation.
Anemia, or low iron levels in the blood, can result in inadequate circulation to the extremities like the feet. With a diminished number of healthy red blood cells carrying oxygen, the feet simply don’t get enough blood flow to stay warm. Meanwhile, clammy sweating continues. Both low temperature and sweating are symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
Menopause and Hormones
Women going through perimenopause and menopause often complain of hot flashes and night sweats. So why would the feet still feel cold and clammy during a hot flash? Shifting hormones like estrogen levels are thought to impact the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature. This can make the feet feel much colder than the core. Simultaneously, low estrogen also causes hot flashes and sweating. For some women, feet get caught in the crosshairs: hot flashes make the core feel scorching hot while the feet remain chilled.
Raynaud’s disease is a condition where blood vessels in the hands and feet constrict too much in response to cold temperatures. This limits circulation, making the extremities feel extremely cold and numb. During an attack, the affected areas may also sweat abnormally. Many people with Raynaud’s complain of simultaneously cold yet sweaty hands and feet.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis is excessive, uncontrollable sweating affecting just certain parts of the body like the feet, hands, underarms, or face. It occurs without apparent cause. With hyperhidrosis of the feet, you may experience cold clammy feet even when you are not overheated. Thesweating is out of proportion for the circumstances.
Certain lifestyle factors can also produce sweaty cold feet by promoting sweating, restricting circulation, or enlarging sweat glands. Being overweight puts pressure on blood vessels. Smoking also impairs circulation. Excess alcohol consumption can dilate blood vessels. Wearing unbreathable shoes or socks and not changing your sweaty shoes or socks causes excessive sweat buildup. Doing repetitive high impact activity like running enlarges sweat glands in the feet over time.
In some cases, trouble regulating body temperature also seems to run in families. Talk to your parents and siblings to see if they also suffer from inexplicably sweaty yet cold feet.
Medical Conditions Causing Cold Sweaty Feet
There are a number of medical conditions that can potentially be behind your clammy cold feet:
- Peripheral artery disease – plaque buildup narrowing arteries
- Peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage
- Diabetes – high blood sugar damages nerves and blood vessels
- Raynaud’s disease – blood vessel spasms
- Deep vein thrombosis – blood clot blocks circulation
- Anemia – low iron reduces oxygen in blood
- Hypothyroidism – underactive thyroid slows metabolism
- Varicose veins – damaged valves cause blood to pool
- Arthritis – joint damage and inflammation
- Edema – fluid buildup and swelling
- Heart failure – inadequate blood pumped from heart
- Parkinson’s disease – disrupts nerves controlling blood flow
- Shocks and trauma – restricts blood flow through vasoconstriction
Tips for Dealing with Icy Sweaty Feet
If you’re bothered by constantly cold and clammy feet, here are some tips for finding relief:
- See your doctor to identify any underlying conditions causing poor circulation or nerve dysfunction
- Keep your feet warm and dry by wearing socks that wick moisture and breathe
- Avoid restrictive socks and shoes that compress feet
- Try moisture-wicking insoles to absorb sweat
- Alternate pairs of shoes so they have time to fully dry out
- Treat any fungal infections promptly
- Take frequent short breaks to elevate your feet above heart level
- Exercise regularly to improve cardiovascular health
- Don’t cross your legs or ankles for extended periods
- Apply antiperspirant or talcum powder to reduce sweat
- Consider prescription strength antiperspirants for excessive sweating
- Avoid exposing your feet to extreme temperature shifts
- Takewarm baths to improve circulation
- Massage feet and stretch toes to stimulate blood flow
- Reduce caffeine and spicy foods which can worsen sweating
- Quit smoking and limit alcohol which constricts blood vessels
If improving foot hygiene, staying active, keeping feet warm, and making lifestyle changes don’t seem to help, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Getting to the root cause is key, whether it’s circulatory problems, nerve damage, or hormonal changes. Treating the underlying condition causing sweaty icy feet will provide the most effective, lasting relief. You don’t have to just endure uncomfortable clammy frozen feet. With the right diagnosis and treatment plan, you can finally get your feet feeling comfy and temperate.