Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Blushing

Almost everyone has had an embarrassing moment and felt a blush appear on his or her face.

With Valentine's Day in mind, we're discussing that familiar feeling of turning red and learning about it from a medical perspective.

CE: What makes us blush?

AA: If you become embarrassed, your body may trigger a fight-or-flight response by releasing epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into your blood stream. Adrenaline causes your blood vessels to enlarge or dilate to improve blood flow, and this can result in blushing.

CE: Can medications or medical conditions cause a similar reaction?

AA: Some medications like niacin, which is used to treat high cholesterol, as well as certain medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can have a side effect of flushing. Medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism and carcinoid syndrome can also cause symptoms of flushing. For some people, alcohol triggers significant flushing.

CE: Why do some people turn red more easily than others?

AA: One theory is that some people may just have more blood vessels in their face than others. For individuals that do blush more easily, however, it can be a self-perpetuating cycle. They feel themselves start to blush and then become embarrassed that they're blushing which then makes the blushing worse. When this is severe enough, it can trigger a medical condition called erythrophobia, which is a fear of blushing.

CE: Is there anything we can do to decrease blushing?

AA: You can try conservative measures like trying to relax and decrease stress as much as possible. Deep breathing techniques can be helpful. Drinking a cold beverage can help cool your body down and reduce redness. Using cold compresses can also help blood vessels to constrict and decrease the redness.

CE: What if these measures aren't enough?

AA: There are medications called beta-blockers that can help some individuals. They slow down your heart rate and help block the adrenaline release that can trigger blushing. There are also lasers that can be used to decrease the number of extra blood vessels in the face.

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