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Blushing is a redness in the face, ears or neck that is occasionally accompanied by a hot sensation in the affected area. Blushing is caused by extreme contraction and relaxation of tiny muscles in the walls of the blood vessels.
The skin has a network of small blood vessels with tiny muscles within the walls. These muscles contract and relax but when the contraction is extreme, the blood vessels close down preventing blood from passing through them. This makes the skin go pale and white. When the muscles finally relax, blood passes through making the skin turn red.
This process is controlled by the autonomic nervous system which we have no control over. The system can be affected by illness, heat and emotions. Anger or embarrassment can often trigger blushing as can excitement. Moving from cold to hot environments can cause blushing as can eating food that is spicy. In severe cases of blushing, the condition is referred to as idiopathic craniofacial erytherma.
Other conditions that cause blushing include:
Rosacea – a skin condition that causes inflammation due to permanent widening of the blood vessels in the cheeks, nose and eyes.
Hyperhidrosis – otherwise known as 'excessive sweating', hyperhidrosis can result in flushing or blushing.
Menopause – hormonal changes in the body causes blushing.
Carcinoid syndrome – this is a rare condition and is usually accompanied by stomach pain, diarrhoea and heart palpitation.
Other causes of blushing include:
drinking too much alcohol
drinking hot drinks
MSG (monosodium glutomate) – a food additive used to improve flavour
certain medications for diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, angina, high blood pressure, bone disorders
Blushing is usually a symptom of an underlying condition such as menopause or rosacea. Blushing is also related to hormonal activity in teenagers or when someone is feeling anxious or nervous. The skin turns red, usually in the cheeks or neck, and you can begin to feel hot. Redness in the skin can be accompanied by sweating.
As someone blushes, they can become self-conscious about their blushing which makes the problems worse. If certain triggers such as spicy food or alcohol cause your blushing then you should avoid them whenever possible.
Blushing is a normal response by the body to certain stimulus or feelings however persistent blushing can cause psychological distress.
If blushing is caused by social phobias or extreme nervousness there are psychological treatments which can help. First you should visit your GP and explain the problem. The doctor will check for any physical problems which may be the cause before referring you to a psychological specialist.
In some cases, corrective surgery can be performed (usually when blushing is accompanied by excessive sweating) however there are complications which can arise such as haemothorax (blood gathering between the lungs and chest cavity or Horner's syndrome (drooped eyelids and sunken eyes).