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Planning Retirement Online

In the red

January 2017

woman holding her hand over her face

Blushing is not something we welcome. While a very gentle flush can add a charming colour to a pale complexion, anything more severe is simply a big cause of embarrassment. For women who have been through the menopause and suffered hot flushes, they will understand the discomfort that comes with the hot and sometimes even burning sensation of flushes.

A blush and a flush are virtually the same thing; and some doctors refer to blushing as flushing. Men as well as women can blush.

Blushing mainly affects your face but it can travel across to your ears and neck and even the top of your chest. The skin turns red and it can feel hot. Blushing is usually a natural response to emotions, such as anger, guilt and embarrassment, and it is uncontrollable. So, if you are blushing because of anger, you can aggravate the condition by then being embarrassed by your blush.

This is all due to changes in the blood vessels in your skin. These small vessels have tiny muscles within their walls that can open or contract according to the messages they receive from your nervous system. If the muscles are contracted, they restrict the amount of blood that can flow through the vessels and your skin can become pale and white. However, when the muscles are relaxed, the blood vessels open wide allowing more blood to pass through and causing the skin to turn red.

This change in the muscles of the blood vessels is an involuntary reaction to an emotional event which naturally causes the “fight or flight” response in our bodies. This fight or flight response releases adrenaline into our blood stream. The adrenaline dilates the blood vessels around our body which allows the blood to flow more easily. It also increases the heart rate which makes the blood flow around the body at a faster pace. The blood vessels in your face reply to this emotional response with the chemical transmission of adenylyl cyclase which opens up the veins in your face even further creating a reddening appearance. A feeling of warmth and sweating may also occur as the blood vessels dilate.

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.

Along with embarrassment or guilt or other emotional feelings, blushing can be caused by alcohol, hot and spicy foods, exercise and occasionally through drinking hot drinks or certain ingredients such as monosodium glutamate. There are also some medications used to treat various conditions that can have a side effect of blushing, including chlorpropramide for diabetes and raloxifene for osteoporosis.

Avoiding blushing is not always easy. If you know certain foods trigger a blush, then of course you can avoid these; but embarrassment, guilt or shyness can catch you unawares. Breathing techniques can help to relieve anxiety, and in severe cases there are a number of treatments including cognitive behavioural therapy and clinical hypnotherapy.

In cases of really severe facial blushing, surgery can be considered. An endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is performed under a general anaesthetic to adjust the nerves that cause facial blood vessels to widen.

But for most of us, blushing is an occasional occurrence and the best we can do is to understand the underlying causes and to try and control our emotions when in a situation that might cause us to go red.

 

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