Blue or grey skin or lips (cyanosis)
Cyanosis is where your skin or lips turn blue or grey. It can be a sign of a serious problem.
How to tell if you have blue or grey skin or lips (cyanosis)
If you have cyanosis, you may notice a blue or grey colour on your:
- skin (black or brown skin may turn grey - this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, lips, gums and inside the eyelids)
- under your nails
Your hands and feet are usually a normal temperature. They may be cold if you also have poor blood circulation, which can be a cause of cyanosis.
Immediate action required: Call 999 if:
- you or your child's lips, tongue, face or skin suddenly turn blue or grey - on brown or black skin, this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, lips, gums and inside the eyelids
You or your child may also:
- have difficulty breathing
- have chest pain
- be confused, drowsy or dizzy
Your child may also be limp, floppy or not responding like they normally do. Their head may fall to the side, backwards or forwards, or they may find it difficult to lift their head or focus on your face.
These are signs of a serious medical problem.
Urgent advice: Get help from NHS 111 if:
- you or your child's fingers, toes, hands and feet are blue or grey - on brown or black skin, this may be easier to see on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
This may be a sign of poor blood circulation.
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Causes of blue or grey skin or lips (cyanosis)
Blue or grey skin or lips (cyanosis) happens when there's not enough oxygen in your blood, or you have poor blood circulation.
It can be caused by a serious problem with the:
- lungs, like asthma or pneumonia
- airways, like choking or croup
- heart, like heart failure or congenital heart disease
Other causes of cyanosis include:
- Raynaud's, which affects your fingers and toes
- beta blockers, medicines used to treat high blood pressure
- a blood clot that stops the blood supply to a limb
- being in cold air or water
- wearing clothing or jewellery that's too tight
Treatment for blue or grey skin or lips (cyanosis)
Cyanosis is a symptom of many different conditions.
Treatment depends on the cause.
Page last reviewed: 4 October 2023
Next review due: 4 October 2026