Sudden redness or discoloration in your face or upper body can be concerning, especially if you aren’t experiencing other unusual symptoms. However, the onset of skin flushing, or blushing, isn’t necessarily a serious problem, especially if it’s not a recurring issue.

But how do you know whether skin flushing or blushing is a sign of a more serious medical concern? Learn more about some of the most common causes of this sudden skin discoloration and when to contact your doctor.

Skin flushing, or blushing, happens as a result of increased blood flow. Whenever more blood flows to an area of skin such as your cheeks, the blood vessels enlarge to compensate. This enlargement is what gives skin the “flushed” effect.

Due to this increased blood flow, you may feel warmth around your neck, upper chest, or face. On lighter skin tones, this flushing may result in patches of visible reddening. On darker skin tones, flushing may not result in reddening of the skin, but may instead cause discoloration or darkening of the affected area.

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 can result from an underlying medical issue, such as Cushing syndrome or a niacin overdose. Be sure to check with a healthcare professional if you have recurring skin flushing or blushing.

The exact symptoms of skin flushing will vary due to its underlying cause. Some may be temporary or manageable at home, while others may relate to more severe conditions that require medical attention.

In general, the many causes of skin flushing or blushing tend to cause the following:

  • skin discoloration in your face, neck, chest, or upper trunk
  • feelings of warmth or sweating in the affected areas
  • rapid onset of the above symptoms

Many different conditions can cause skin flushing, according to the National Health Service (NHS). Here are some possible causes.

Menopause

Menopause occurs when hormone production in the ovaries decreases and menstrual periods stop permanently. The symptoms are primarily related to lower production of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Other symptoms of menopause may include:

Hot flashes may lead to skin flushing and blushing, particularly in the face and chest areas.

A 2018 review estimated that 50 to 85 percent of women over the age of 45 regularly experience hot flashes and night sweats.

Menopause symptoms can last for months or years, depending on the person. However, hot flashes may last for 14 years after menopause, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

Learn more about menopause here.

Rosacea

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Skin flushing or blushing is caused by increased blood flow to the affected region, leading to reddening of the skin. Many health conditions can cause it, such as menopause, rosacea, headaches, nephritis, Cushing disease, and other autoimmune conditions. Photography courtesy of Case Rep Ophthalmol Med./NCBI

This chronic skin disease goes through cycles of fading and relapse. Relapses may be caused by:

  • eating spicy foods
  • alcoholic beverages
  • sunlight
  • stress
  • the intestinal bacteria Helicobacter pylori

Four subtypes of rosacea encompass a wide variety of symptoms. Other common symptoms include:

  • facial flushing
  • raised skin bumps
  • facial skin discoloration
  • skin dryness
  • skin sensitivity

While the cause of rosacea is unknown, inflammation of the blood vessels from stress, spicy foods, and hot temperatures may worsen the condition. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that fair-skinned women between the ages of 30 and 50 are the most susceptible.

Read more about rosacea.

Erythema infectiosum (“fifth disease”)

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Children can also experience skin flushing. It will present as areas of red skin, usually on the cheeks. Fifth disease, fever, Kawasaki disease, medications, and eating spicy foods usually causes it. Maarten van de Voort Images & Photographs/Getty Images

Fifth disease is the result of a virus. It can cause a rash on the cheeks, arms, and legs.

It’s commonly spread among elementary school aged children and usually results in mild flu-like symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that fifth disease is more likely to appear in children than adults.

Other symptoms include:

Read more about fifth disease.

Agoraphobia

This type of anxiety disorder causes people to avoid places and situations that might make them feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed.

Agoraphobia causes:

  • fear of leaving the home for extended periods
  • fear of being alone in social situations
  • fear of being in places that would be difficult to escape

As anxiety increases, the NHS says that your skin may flush and feel hot to the touch.

Other symptoms include:

Read more about agoraphobia.

Scarlet fever

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By www.badobadop.co.uk via Wikimedia Commons

Scarlet fever occurs at the same time as or right after a strep throat infection.

This results in a discolored skin rash all over the body. According to a 2015 study, the rash typically starts on the upper trunk, but it doesn’t spread to the palms or soles of the feet.

This rash often includes tiny bumps that make it feel like “sandpaper.” Another symptom is a bright red tongue.

The CDC says that a scarlet fever rash typically develops within 2 days after getting sick, but may develop 1 week later.

Read more about scarlet fever.

Hyperthyroidism

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By Drahreg01 via Wikimedia Commons

This condition occurs when the thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, leading to an excessively high metabolic rate.

It results from a variety of conditions, including:

The AAD says that hyperthyroidism can cause facial skin flushing and discoloration in the palms. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), other symptoms may include:

  • rapid heart rate
  • elevated blood pressure
  • hand tremors
  • low tolerance for heat
  • diarrhea
  • weight loss
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • difficulty sleeping
  • nausea and vomiting
  • menstrual irregularities

Read more about hyperthyroidism.

Pyelonephritis

Pyelonephritis is a serious infection located in the upper parts of the urinary tract, including the kidneys.

Common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • body aches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain in the abdomen, groin, or back

According to a 2019 study, fever may be the only symptom in children under the age of 2.

Cloudy or bloody urine, pain with urination, and frequent urination may also occur.

The NIDDK says that if you’re 65 years or older, this kidney infection may not cause the more typical symptoms. Instead, it may lead to hallucinations, problems speaking, and confusion.

Read more about pyelonephritis.

Cluster headaches

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) says that these severely painful headaches occur in clusters or cycles that mostly happen at night. They can cause constant and deep burning or piercing pain on one side of the head. This can result in facial flushing.

You may feel this pain behind the eyes. Pain may spread to the forehead, temples, teeth, nose, neck, or shoulders on the same side.

Other symptoms of cluster headaches include:

  • constricted pupils
  • excessive tearing
  • eye redness
  • sensitivity to light
  • swelling under or around one or both of your eyes
  • a runny nose or stuffy nose
  • nausea

Read more about cluster headaches.

Yellow fever

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By Bobjgalindo via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow fever is a serious, potentially deadly, flu-like viral disease that mosquitoes spread. It’s most prevalent in certain parts of Africa and South America.

Vaccination can help prevent yellow fever. According to NORD, you can expect to be immune 10 days after getting the vaccine, with protective effects lasting for at least 10 years.

Initial symptoms of the infection are similar to those of the influenza virus, including:

  • flushed face
  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • body aches
  • loss of appetite

The CDC says that during the toxic phase of infection, initial symptoms may appear 3 to 6 days after an infected mosquito has bitten you.

Read more about yellow fever.

Autonomic dysreflexia (autonomic hyperreflexia)

With this condition, your involuntary nervous system overreacts to external or bodily stimuli.

This condition is a medical emergency and may require urgent attention.

It most commonly occurs in people with spinal cord injuries above the sixth thoracic vertebra, or T6. It may also affect people with multiple sclerosis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, and certain head or brain injuries.

Along with flushing of the skin, symptoms include:

  • irregular or racing heartbeat
  • high blood pressure
  • profuse sweating
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • dilated pupils

Read more about autonomic dysreflexia.

Cushing syndrome

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By Masryyy vis Wikimedia Commons

Cushing syndrome occurs due to unusually high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. The NIDDK says that it’s most common in adults ages 30 to 50 and can lead to flushing in the face and neck.

Other symptoms include:

  • obesity
  • fatty deposits, especially in the midsection, face, and back
  • acne
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • glucose intolerance
  • high blood pressure
  • headaches

Purple stretch marks on the breasts, arms, abdomen, and thighs, and thinning skin that bruises easily and heals slowly are other symptoms.

Read more about Cushing syndrome.

Niacin overdose

Niacin flush is a common and harmless side effect of taking high doses of supplemental niacin (vitamin B3).

Alongside facial flushing, you may experience an itching or burning sensation. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this usually occurs after taking supplements of 30 milligrams or more.

Tolerance and a decrease in symptoms may occur over time.

Read more about niacin overdose.

There are many specific causes of facial flushing, such as heightened emotional states or eating spicy foods. Several medical conditions may also cause skin flushing.

Medications

The AAD says that several medications can cause flushing as a side effect. These include drugs that treat inflammation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and other conditions. Such medications may include:

  • corticotropin-releasing hormone
  • doxorubicin
  • glucocorticoids
  • vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin
  • calcium channel blockers
  • morphine and other opiates
  • amyl nitrite and butyl nitrite
  • cholinergic drugs, such as metrifonate, and anthelmintic drugs
  • bromocriptine
  • thyrotropin-releasing hormone
  • tamoxifen
  • cyproterone acetate
  • oral triamcinolone
  • cyclosporine
  • rifampin
  • sildenafil citrate

Talk with your doctor if you think any prescription or over-the-counter medication may be contributing to your flushing symptoms. Never stop taking any medications without discussing them with a medical professional first.

Spicy foods

According to the AAD, consuming spicy foods, such as peppers or products derived from the Capsicum family of plants, can cause sudden skin discoloration and sweat in the face or neck. These include:

Eating these foods may raise your body temperature, increasing blood flow and causing facial discoloration. Handling these types of foods can also cause skin irritation.

Emotional triggers

Extreme emotions, such as stress, anger, and embarrassment, can cause flushing in the face.

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.

Other risk factors

Other possible causes of facial blushing include:

  • drinking alcohol, especially red wine
  • hot beverages
  • high temperatures
  • fever
  • cold weather
  • inflammatory conditions
  • allergies
  • certain cosmetics and skin products

Treating any underlying conditions that may be causing flushing is often the best remedy. For example, the NHS says that your doctor may recommend medications, or a course of psychotherapy to reduce feelings of anxiety if that’s the cause.

However, home health options include avoiding specific triggers, such as:

  • spicy foods
  • hot beverages
  • toxins
  • bright sunlight
  • extreme cold or heat

Removing yourself from high stress situations may also help prevent flushing.

It’s important to get immediate medical care for unusual symptoms of flushing. Also, contact your doctor if you’re having recurring episodes, since flushing can be linked to serious medical conditions.

A 2016 review suggests that doctors should take an inventory of symptoms to determine the underlying cause of flushing. Your doctor may ask you about the frequency, duration, location, and context of your symptoms.

A medical exam and history will help supply the required information for a healthcare professional 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 doctor finds your symptoms are emotionally based, they may refer you to a psychotherapist. These professionals can teach you skills to help you cope with extreme emotional events and prevent flushing.

Flushing does not commonly result in serious medical problems but may cause feelings of embarrassment or social anxiety.

However, in some instances, a serious condition can be the underlying cause of flushing. Without treatment, the underlying condition can lead to complications.

There is no definitive method for preventing flushing. However, you can do some things to reduce the risk of these episodes:

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Some people are more prone to redness and warmth on the skin after drinking alcohol. In these people, an enzyme that helps break down alcohol is inactive.
  • Limit your handling and eating of spicy foods. You may benefit from avoiding foods derived from the Capsicum genus.
  • Try to avoid extreme temperatures. Temperatures at either extreme and excessive bright sunlight may all result in skin flushing.
  • Limit your niacin intake. The daily allowance recommended by the NIH is 14 to 16 milligrams for adults, unless a healthcare professional tells you differently.
  • Employ coping skills. Regulating extreme emotions such as anxiety may help you to reduce the frequency of your blushing.

Skin flushing or blushing occurs when blood vessels near the surface of the skin enlarge to accommodate an increased blood flow.

When this happens, you may experience redness or other discoloration of the skin, as well as feelings of warmth in the affected areas.

Skin flushing can be the result of an underlying condition such as rosacea and hyperthyroidism, or you may experience it in periods of extreme emotions, such as stress or embarrassment.

Typically, the condition is not a medical emergency and will resolve with time. However, if you experience repeated, severe flushes, contact your doctor for a full diagnosis.