Blushing is the involuntary reddening of the face, usually triggered by emotions such as embarrassment or stress.
Other areas of the body – such as the neck, ears and upper chest – can also be affected. As well as causing redness, blushing can sometimes make the affected area feel hot.
What causes blushing?
“Normal” blushing occurs when a strong emotional trigger stimulates the nervous system, resulting in the widening of the blood vessels in the face.
This increases the flow of blood into the blood vessels just underneath the skin, causing your face to turn red.
Abnormal (severe or frequent) blushing can have both psychological and physical causes, including:
- social anxiety disorder (social phobia) – a persistent and excessive fear of social situations
- generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – a long-term condition that causes anxiety about a wide range of situations and issues
- rosacea – a common skin condition that mainly affects the face
- the menopause – where a woman stops having monthly periods, usually between 45 and 55 years of age
- certain medications – such as the breast cancer medication tamoxifen
Blushing can also be triggered by drinking alcohol or hot drinks, eating hot or spicy food, strenuous exercise and sudden changes in temperature.
Read more about the causes of blushing.
When to seek medical advice
Most people blush from time to time, and it isn’t usually a cause for concern. But frequent and severe blushing can have a significant psychological impact, leading people to avoid certain situations and interacting with other people.
You should consider speaking to your GP if you blush frequently and it’s affecting your quality of life.
If abnormal blushing is affecting your quality of life, you may benefit from treatment. The specific treatment offered will depend on the underlying cause of your blushing.
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can also help relieve any associated feelings of anxiety and worry.
If the underlying cause is physical, such as the menopause or rosacea, you may be advised to avoid common triggers such as stress, alcohol and spicy foods. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also help women with menopausal hot flushes.
A surgical procedure called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) may be considered if your blushing is particularly severe and other treatments haven’t been effective. But this type of surgery carries a risk of long-term problems such as excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
Read more about treatments for blushing.