Skin flushing, or blushing, describes feelings of warmth and rapid reddening of your neck, upper chest, or facial region. Blotchiness or solid patches of redness are often visible when blushing. Flushed skin is a common physical response to anxiety, stress,... Read more
Skin flushing, or blushing, describes feelings of warmth and rapid reddening of your neck, upper chest, or facial region. 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 a result of high levels of cortisol in the body. A niacin overdose is due to taking too much over-the-counter niacin medication to lower your cholesterol. These are just two potential causes of flushing — be sure to check with your doctor if you have recurring skin flushing or blushing.
Common Underlying Causes of Facial Flushing
Flushing happens as a result of increased blood flow. Whenever there is more blood flow to an area of skin (such as your cheeks), the blood vessels enlarge to compensate. This enlargement is what gives skin the “flushed” effect.
There are many specific 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, such as 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, increasing blood flow and causing facial redness. Handling these types of foods can also 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 can also coincide with an acute increase in blood pressure — still, high blood pressure itself is not a cause of flushing, according to the American Heart Association.
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
- reactions to medications, particularly too much niacin (vitamin B-3)
- Cushing’s disease
- carcinoid syndrome
When to Visit Your Doctor
Though flushing typically isn’t 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.
Your doctor will likely want to take an inventory of your symptoms to determine the underlying cause of your flushing. They may ask you 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. Be sure to mention other co-occurring symptoms, such as diarrhea, shallow breathing, or hives, so that your doctor may evaluate them.
If your provider finds that your symptoms are emotionally based, they may refer you to a psychotherapist. These professionals can help by teaching you skills to help you cope with extreme emotional events and so prevent flushing.
Addressing and Easing Your Symptoms
There are several home health options available to help you decrease your flushing episodes. If home health options don’t 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 doesn’t subside, make an appointment with your doctor.
What Are the 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 of your symptoms.
Also, pinpointing your triggers can help prevent bouts of flushing. If your trigger is emotional, flushing can become more prevalent if you don’t develop adequate coping skills to help manage your emotions.
How to Prevent Flushing
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 whose enzyme to help break down alcohol is inactive 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 genus
- try to avoid extreme temperatures and excessive bright sunlight
- limit your niacin intake to the daily recommended allowance of 14 to 18 milligrams for adults, 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 coping skills include relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioral skills. Also, hypnosis may be effective in treating some emotional issues that produce flushing.
In many cases, occasional flushing is more of a hassle than it is a medical concern. Taking preventive steps to address your flushing can be very helpful in reducing your symptoms. However, it’s important to seek immediate medical care for unusual symptoms of flushing. You should also see your doctor for recurring episodes.