Skin flushing, or blushing, is characterized by feelings of warmth and rapid reddening of your neck, upper chest, or face. Blotchiness or solid patches of redness are often visible when blushing. Flushed skin is a common physical response to anxiety, stress, embarrassment, anger, or another extreme emotional state. Facial flushing is usually more of a social worry than a medical concern.
However, flushing may be linked to an underlying medical issue, such as Cushing’s disease or a niacin overdose. Cushing’s disease is caused by high levels of cortisol in the body. A niacin overdose is caused by taking too much over-the-counter niacin medication to lower your cholesterol. Seek medical help if you have reoccurring skin flushing or blushing.
Common Underlying Causes of Facial Flushing
There are many causes of facial flushing, such as a heightened emotional state or eating spicy food. Several medical conditions are also linked to skin flushing. Listed below are some common causes of flushing.
Consuming spicy foods, specifically, peppers or products derived from the Capsicum (pepper) genus of plants, can cause sudden redness in the face or neck. These include cayenne pepper, paprika, chili peppers, and red peppers. Eating these foods may raise your body temperature and cause facial redness. Also, handling these types of foods can cause skin redness and irritation.
Extreme emotions can trigger redness in the face. For example, if you become deeply embarrassed or anxious, your face or neck may appear splotchy. Experiencing feelings of extreme anger, stress, or sadness may also cause skin flushing. Crying can often cause red blotches on the face and neck. All of these emotions are a sign of an acute increase in blood pressure.
Rosacea is a skin condition that may produce swelling, redness, and acne-like sores. While the cause of rosacea is unknown, inflammation of the blood vessels from stress, spicy foods, and hot temperatures may worsen the condition. Fair-skinned females between the ages of 30 and 50 are the most susceptible.
Other, less common, causes of facial blushing include:
- alcohol consumption
- high temperatures or fever
- medicinal reactions, particularly too much niacin
- Cushing’s disease
- Carcinoid syndrome
Though flushing is typically not an emergency, it may be linked to serious medical conditions. Talk to your doctor if your flushing becomes a persistent issue or if it occurs with other symptoms, such as diarrhea.
Addressing and Easing Your Symptoms
There are several home health options available to help you decrease your flushing episodes. If home health options do not prevent or lessen the frequency of these episodes, see your doctor immediately; it may mean that you have an underlying medical condition causing this sudden redness.
Home Health Options
Home health options include avoiding specific triggers, such as spicy foods, hot beverages, toxins, bright sunlight, and extreme cold or heat. Removing yourself from high-stress situations may also help prevent flushing. Employing relaxation tactics, such as deep-breathing exercises, to reduce anxiety may help lower your blood pressure. If your flushing does not subside, make an appointment with your doctor.
Doctor Visit and Diagnosis
Your doctor will likely want to take an inventory of your symptoms to determine the underlying cause of your flushing. You may be asked about the frequency, duration, location, and context of your symptoms. Also, a medical exam and history will help supply required information for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Other co-occurring symptoms, such as diarrhea, shallow breathing, or hives, may be evaluated.
If your provider finds that your symptoms are emotionally based, you may be referred to a psychotherapist. These professionals can help by teaching you skills to cope with extreme emotional events and so prevent flushing.
Consequences of Untreated Flushing
Flushing does not commonly result in serious medical problems. However, in some instances, a serious condition can be the underlying cause of flushing. It’s important to talk to your doctor about all your symptoms.
Also, pinpointing your triggers can help prevent bouts of flushing. If your trigger is emotional, flushing can become more prevalent if you do not develop adequate coping skills to better manage your emotions.
There is no definitive method for preventing flushing. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of these episodes. You can:
- limit your alcohol consumption. People who have an inactive enzyme that helps break down alcohol are more prone to redness and warmth on the skin after drinking an alcoholic beverage.
- limit your handling and eating of spicy foods, especially those derived from the Capsicum species.
- try to avoid extreme temperatures and excessive bright sunlight.
- limit your niacin intake to the daily recommended allowance of 16 milligrams for men and 14 milligrams for women, unless your doctor tells you differently. Consuming more than 50 milligrams of niacin can cause flushing.
- employ coping skills to regulate extreme emotions, such as anxiety. Helpful skills include relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral skills. Also, hypnosis may be effective in treating some emotional issues that produce flushing.
- seek immediate medical care for unusual symptoms of flushing.