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
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
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
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
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.
- 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
- 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.