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Flushing caused by anxiety, drugs, chemicals or food

Blushing or flushing caused by anxiety

There is no magic drug to prevent the normal flushing caused by anxiety, but there are things that you can try.

Decide not to mind it. Your face is probably not as red as you think it is, and your blushing is probably less noticeable than you imagine. Think carefully about whether it really matters if other people know that you are nervous. Everyone knows that giving a speech, meeting new people, asking someone out, being complimented or having an argument (or any other situation that makes you blush) are circumstances that make everyone nervous, whether or not they are prone to blushing.
Control your anxiety. If you think that you tend to be overfearful or apprehensive, relaxation therapy or cognitive therapy (which helps you to see situations in a different light) may help. Your doctor will be able to give you advice about these, or look in your local library for self-help books; you can also take a look at our section on shyness.
Surgery. Consider surgery if your blushing is so bad that it is really affecting your life. Ask your doctor about an ‘endoscopic transthoracic sympathectomy’ operation. This destroys the nerves that dilate the tiny blood vessels in the face (sometimes using a laser). A survey of 244 patients 8 months after the operation suggested that 85% were pleased with the result (British Journal of Dermatology 1998;138:639–43). The operation is similar to the operation for excessive sweating of the palms and armpits, and requires a general anaesthetic. It is not something to undertake lightly; like all surgery, it has risks (International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 2007;23;54–62).

Blushing or flushing caused by drugs, chemicals or foods

 A few drugs can cause flushing, so it is worth checking whether you are taking any of the following:
  • chlorpropamide (for diabetes), which can cause flushing if you take it with alcohol
  • glyceryl trinitrate, isosorbide dinitrate (for angina)
  • tamoxifen (for breast cancer and some other conditions)
  • buserelin, goserelin, leuprorelin and triptorelin (for prostate tumours in men)
  • raloxifene (for osteoporosis)
  • calcitonin (for some bone disorders)
  • nicotinic acid (for high cholesterol)
  • calcium-channel blockers (for angina or high blood pressure).

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour-enhancing chemical sometimes added to foods (e.g. Chinese meals), which can cause flushing in some people. Alcohol and spicy foods can also be triggers.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, December 2nd 2010


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Comments on this article

Posted by Optional on 08/11/2010 at 02:43

I have had severe attacks of abdominal pain, followed by extreme flushing of my chest, neck and face, with sweating and nausea. Then the diarrhea starts. I have had this a few times a year, for many years. Recently it was so bad, felt as if my blood pressure was threw the roof. What is causing this?? I am assuming it is something I eat, but why the flushing?

Posted by eugene on 26/01/2010 at 09:02

recently I have started sweating on my face below my eyes and across my nose. In the morning as well as night.what might cause this.

Posted by aitch on 02/09/2009 at 11:51

I have sweat that rolls off my head, down my face and generally the upper body. I am 67, well past the menopause but the sweats are very similar to the menopause, but without the anxiety associated with it. They occur for no apparent reason.I have very thinning hair and wonder if sweat is usually absorbed by a full head of hair. I take anti-colestrol tablets, strong co-codamol and wear Butran patches to help my arthritas. I rarely consume alchohol and am a non smoker. A bit overweight, but otherwise healthy for my age. Any ideas?.

Posted by kala on 23/02/2009 at 08:39

I suffer from embarrasment all the time everyday, it occurs when im with more then 1 person. There doesnt have to be a particular reason why i blush it just happens for no reason. what can i do to stop this from happening?

Posted by Anonymous on 13/02/2009 at 09:22

Hi, i wanted to comment to ask a question, my boyfriend has a slightly red face in which it appears on his cheek bones, slightly on his nose and sometimes his forehead and chin, this is extremely light most of the time and can vary in places around his face, however when exercising his eye area almost becomes purple. Could you please help me to find out what this is as he is 23 and believes it is Rosacea? He is now taking nerve pills to help his anxiety about it. Thankyou! Claire.


Flushing caused by anxiety, drugs, chemicals or food

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Fascinating facts

In the 18th and 19th centuries, women who blushed were regarded as very attractive

In Victorian times, flushes at the menopause were treated by applying leeches to suck blood out of the skin

A famous Victorian doctor, Brown-Sequard, recognized that flushes at the menopause were caused by shutting down of the ovaries. He recommended that women should eat a daily sandwich containing two sheep's ovaries

Sheep, primates and humans are the only animals that have menopausal flushes (Financial Times 2003; August 9)

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