Why Too much Blushing is Unhealthy

Most people show embarrassment, excitement and emotional stress by the involuntary reddening of their faces. Or, as it’s popularly known – blushing.

You see your crush, you blush.

You’ve embarrassed yourself in front of your friends when your white lie had been discovered, you blush.

What happens inside the body when we blush?

When we are embarrassed or excited, our bodies release adrenaline and endorphins respectively. These hormones act as natural stimulants, which increase our heart rate and speed up our breathing. It can cause our pupils to dilate. It slows down the digestive process so that the energy can be redirected to the muscles. The veins in our faces dilate, allowing more blood than usual to flow through them creating the reddened appearance. To some, blushing even makes the affected area feel hot. All of these effects account for the jolt we feel when we find ourselves embarrassed or excited.

Our bodies’s instinct is to either “fight or flight’ when shamed and when unable to do any of the two physically, the body compensates by blushing.

Blushing has become associated to being “lovestruck” as it is believed to be induced by romantic situations and to some, it has even become “aesthetically pleasing”. You wouldn’t believe the number of women (and some men) who are in constant quests to achieve that “blush”, that “healthy glow” and the “after-sex” glow. But while some long for that perpetually “flushed” look, to some it can be a source of embarrassment itself.

Occasional blushing is considered healthy but constant blushing can be a source of health issues for other people. The question is how?

Old man suffering from  rhinophyma (photo credits from wikipedia.org)
Old man suffering from rhinophyma. (photo credits from wikipedia.org)

When you blush even at the slightest agitation and provocation, or when you’re flushed even up to the areas of your neck, chest and ears. Constant blushing can be an early sign of a condition called Rosacea, a chronic inflammatory skin condition. It is not a life-threatening condition but when Rosacea is untreated, the symptoms that will worsen over time can lead to undesirable cosmetic effects.

Symptoms of this condition at a later stage include semi-permanent redness, dilation of superficial blood vessels on the face (telangiectasia), red domed small facial bumps (papules), pimple-like or blister-like swellings with pus (pustules), red gritty eyes, burning and stinging sensations, and in some advanced cases, a red, swollen nose (rhinophyma) may develop.

The cause of Rosacea has not been discovered but researchers believe that it is caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors.  Studies have shown that it is more common in people with fair skin and light hair and eye color, with  the age bracket of 30-60 in both men and women and more common in women undergoing menopause.

A number of factors can worsen rosacea by increasing the blood flow to the surface of your skin. Some of these can include: hot foods or beverages, spicy food, alcohol, extreme temperature, sunlight, stress, anger or embarrassment, strenuous exercise, hot baths, sauna and drugs that dilate blood vessels and some blood pressure medications.

Since these factors are all external, rosacea can be controlled by simply avoiding the triggers. Oral medications are also given to   minimize the redness.

Idiopathic craniofacial erythema is another medical condition characterised by extreme, uncontrollable, and frequently unprovoked, facial blushing. Blushing can happen at any time and can be triggered even by the most mundane events. The redness subsides after a few minutes, leaving the person embarrassed and feeling exposed.  Studies have shown that people who suffer from this condition may also suffer from social anxiety in which the person experiences persistent unease in social and performance situations. This can lead to Erythrophobia, the unusual fear of facial blushing or blushing itself. The fear stems from worrying about being the focus of attention which may lead to embarrassment. Oftentimes, many who try to hide the  blushing usually end up making the condition even worse.

People who have this condition may not able to reach their maximum potential because of their fear of being the center of attention. They often choose careers devoid of social gathering, public performances and speeches, or any other situations that may lead to any large gathering of people.

These last two conditions have a psychological root, and it is best resolved by addressing the main cause. A psychologist can help the patient understand the emotional triggers of blushing and eventually control it.

Some people have resorted to undergo endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, an operation that will clamp off their overactive sympathetic nerves that cause the constant blushing, although this is considered as a last resort-treatment.

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