Flushed skin: Understanding the causes

Flushed skin is always a visual sign of shame, anxiousness, or being too hot. Frequent flushing, however, may often imply an underlying medical condition.

When the hundreds of tiny blood vessels just under the skin dilate or widen, flushed skin occurs. They quickly fill with more blood as these blood vessels widen, which can make the skin look red or pink.

In regions of the body where the blood vessels are nearer to the skin, such as the cheeks and chest, this effect is more noticeable. Flushed skin can also feel hot to the touch or cause a feeling of mild burning.

Flushed skin is typically harmless and short-lived, but any other signs that may follow flushing are important to be aware of.

Flushed skin’s most common causes include:

Endocrine disorders

The endocrine system involves hormone-producing glands, which are chemical messengers that transmit data from one part of the body to another. Via the bloodstream, these hormones move and help control a number of body functions.

When too much or too little of a hormone is released by the body, this disrupts its internal communication. These hormonal changes are caused by many endocrine disorders, which can contribute to a broad variety of symptoms.

Flushing may be triggered by any endocrine condition that produces high levels of hormones that influence stress, blood pressure, or widening of the blood vessels.

Cushing’s syndrome, for instance, causes the body to produce too much cortisol, which can cause chest and stomach weight gain, diabetes, heart health complications, and flushing.

Medications

In some individuals, some drugs can cause flushed skin as a side effect. These medicines might include:

  • some antibiotics
  • calcium-channel blockers
  • vasodilators
  • nitrates
  • nicotinic acid
  • tamoxifen
  • thyroid-releasing hormone
  • opioids, such as morphine

A doctor might be able to prescribe an alternative medicine if a person is worried about flushed skin that results from taking a specific medication.

Drinking alcohol

Alcohol increases blood pressure and induces expansion of the blood vessels, which may cause flushed skin.

The more alcohol an individual drinks, the more likely it is that they will find their skin turning red. Flushed skin is not necessarily a cause for alarm after drinking alcohol.

Blushing

Flushed skin and Blushing
They might experience blushing when people feel anxious.

Heat

In an effort to cool down the body, it allows the blood vessels to expand when a person becomes too hot. Flushed skin may also be induced by this reaction. This can all result in exercise, intensive physical activity, or rapid temperature changes.

Redness arising from exercise or being in a hot setting is not generally a cause for concern. People who feel too hot, however, should ensure that they drink some water and concentrate on taking deep breaths.

Flushed skin with other signs, such as trouble breathing, weakness, or confusion, may be a sign of a disease associated with heat, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Rosacea

Rosacea on a lady's face
The face is usually affected by rosacea.

Rosacea is a long-term skin disease that may cause redness, pimples, noticeable blood vessels, and other skin issues, typically occurring on the face. Flushing also starts with rosacea, and each flushing bout can last a little longer than the previous one.

It is not clear the cause of rosacea. However, some conditions can cause a flare-up of symptoms in certain individuals. Usual causes include:

  • stress
  • sun exposure
  • hot or cold temperatures
  • specific foods or drinks
  • certain medications

People will typically keep the symptoms of rosacea under control with care that may include topical drugs and oral antibiotics.

Know more about rosacea here.

Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)

Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) is a disorder that can cause symptoms of anaphylaxis to occur in a person, such as hives, flushed skin, and breathing difficulties.

Mast cells are part of the immune system, and MCAS happens when too many of the compounds inside these cells are released by the body at the wrong times.

Itching of the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat, low blood pressure, and rapid heart rate are other symptoms.

Carcinoid syndrome

Carcinoid syndrome is an unusual disorder that may cause the face and chest to have flushed skin.

In about 10% of people with a carcinoid tumor, carcinoid syndrome exists. A carcinoid tumor is a rare form of cancer that typically begins in the digestive tract but can spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, lungs, and pancreas.

Hormone-like substances such as serotonin are developed by carcinoid tumors and can often contribute to the development of carcinoid syndrome. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, and difficulty breathing can be other signs of these tumors and carcinoid syndrome.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer can alter thyroid gland activity, which can affect the development of hormones and cause flushing. The type of thyroid cancer most likely to cause flushing is medullary thyroid carcinoma, but it accounts for just 4 percent of thyroid cancers.

Menopause

Hormonal flush during menopause.
Hormonal changes can cause the skin to flush during menopause.

Menopause is when a person stops getting their period permanently. Changing hormone levels can affect blood flow in people going through menopause and cause flushing bouts that are known as hot flashes. An individual may experience a sudden, intense sensation of heat during a hot flash that can spread throughout the body.

Anyone who is worried about the effects of menopause should talk to a doctor who can provide advice on various treatment options.

Tips on prevention

It is not always easy to prevent flushed skin, but doing the following may help:

  • The avoidance of extreme temperatures and proper dressing for the weather
  • Drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and overheating
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure by daily exercise and a healthy, balanced diet
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Learning therapeutic strategies for dealing with stress, such as breathing exercises, mindfulness, and meditation
  • Treatment of any underlying medical condition that may lead to flushed skin

A medical professional should advise on treatments and procedures that can assist with flushed skin that relates to stress, anxiety, or emotional responses.

When to see a doctor

Typically, flushed skin is harmless, but often it may be a symptom of an underlying disorder. It is best to see a doctor if the flushing:

  • It is becoming more common, or worse,
  • It does not seem that heat, exercise, or emotional responses are linked to
  • Other unexplained symptoms, such as diarrhea or a racing heart, arise alongside other
  • It induces severe embarrassment, anxiety, or stress.

Conclusion

Flushed skin occurs when the blood vessels widen and fill with more blood just below the skin.

Occasional flushing is common for most people and can result from being too hot, exercise, or emotional responses. A side effect of consuming alcohol or taking such drugs can also be the flushed skin.

Flushing may also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as rosacea, cancer, or an endocrine condition. A doctor should be consulted by people who have flushing that seems to be getting worse, happens with other symptoms, or has no clear cause.

Sources

  • Cushing’s syndrome. (2018, May)
    (Link)
  • Evers, B. M. (2017, April). Carcinoid syndrome
    (LINK)
  • Hannah-Shmouni, F., Stratakis, C. A., & Koch, C. A. (2016, September). Flushing in (neuro)endocrinology. Reviews in Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders, 17(3), 373–380
    (LINK)
  • Metzler-Wilson, K., Toma, K., Sammons, D. L., Mann, S., Jurovcik, A. J., Demidova, O., & Wilson, T. E. (2015, September). Augmented supraorbital skin sympathetic nerve activity responses to symptom trigger events in rosacea patients. Journal of Neurophysiology, 114(3), 1530–1537
    (LINK)
  • Rot, M. A. H., Moskowitz, D. S., & de Jong, P. J. (2015, February 13). Intrapersonal and interpersonal concomitants of facial blushing during everyday social encounters. PLoS One, 10(2)
    (LINK)
  • What is thyroid cancer? (2016, April 15)
    (LINK)

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