Blushing is when your face, ears, neck and, occasionally, your upper chest, become red in colour. The redness is sometimes accompanied by a hot feeling in the area. Blushing is sometimes referred to as 'flushing' by health professionals.
Your skin contains a network of small blood vessels which have tiny muscles inside the walls. Usually, these muscles are partly squeezed (contracted). Extreme contraction causes the blood vessels to close down so that less blood passes through them.
If the blood cannot flow easily, the skin becomes pale and white. When the muscles are completely relaxed, the blood vessels widen (dilate). This allows more blood to pass through the skin, which makes it red.
Blushing affects both men and women, but is more common in teenagers due to anxiety, feeling nervous, or hormonal activity.
The autonomic nervous system
The small muscles in the blood vessels are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This system is the network of nerves in the body that produce automatic reactions. You do not have any control over it.
The autonomic nervous system can be affected by factors such as heat, illness, and emotions. If you are the type of person that tends to blush easily or regularly, it may be because you feel embarrassed or angry. Other types of emotions can also cause you to blush – for example, feeling excited.
Sometimes, the reason for blushing is due to the autonomic nervous system working too hard.
Some people blush more easily than others. For example, after eating spicy food, the face of one person may become slightly flushed, whereas someone else eating the same food can become very red. Severe cases of blushing are known as idiopathic cranio-facial erytherma.
Rosacea is a common skin condition of the face that causes redness that looks like blushing. Rosacea occurs when the face becomes inflamed, and it is caused by the permanent widening of the blood vessels in the skin of the cheeks and nose. It can also affect the eyes.
Some people who get facial blushing may also have excessive sweating, particularly of the face or hands. This condition is known as hyperhidrosis.
Other medical conditions
Flushing of the face can be linked to medical conditions, such as the menopause. In the majority of cases, blushing is not usually linked to any serious medical conditions.
However, there is a rare disorder called carcinoid syndrome, which causes flushing of the face. The flushing lasts for about 20 minutes each time, and is usually accompanied by:
- Stomach pains.
- Palpitations (irregular heartbeats).
You should seek medical advice if you have facial flushing and all of these symptoms.