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Blue skin or lips (cyanosis)

Cyanosis is where your skin or lips turn blue. It can be a sign of a serious problem.

How to tell if you have blue skin or lips (cyanosis)

If you have cyanosis, you may notice a blue colour on your:

  • lips
  • tongue
  • gums
  • skin
  • ears
  • under your nails

If you have dark skin, cyanosis may be easier to see:

  • on your lips, tongue and gums
  • under your nails
  • around your eyes

Your hands and feet are usually a normal temperature unless you also have poor blood circulation.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your or your child's lips, tongue, face or skin suddenly turn blue

You or your child may also have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain

These are signs of a serious medical problem.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • your or your child's fingers, toes, hands and feet are blue

This may be a sign of poor blood circulation.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Causes of blue skin or lips (cyanosis)

Blue 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, a medicine used to treat high blood pressure
  • a blood clot that stops the blood supply to or from a limb
  • being in cold air or water
  • wearing clothing or jewellery that's too tight

Treatment for blue skin or lips (cyanosis)

Cyanosis is a symptom of many different conditions.

Treatment depends on the cause.

Page last reviewed: 28 August 2020
Next review due: 28 August 2023