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Rosacea

C O N D I T I O N S

What Causes a Red Face?

By Dr. Kristie

Do you constantly have a have a red face? Are your cheeks crimson, even though you’re not blushing and haven’t been out in the sun in ages? If so, your body could be telling you something – and those rosy cheeks could be a sign of an undiagnosed medical problem. What most commonly causes red cheeks and a red face?

When Red Cheeks Come and Go

A red face can appear after exercise – or anytime you’re hot, angry, embarrassed, or stressed. This type of facial redness comes from dilation of blood vessels in the face, due to the action of stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine - released in response to stress, exercise, or heat. Having a fever can also cause a red face, as the body tries to eliminate heat by opening the blood vessels near the skin’s surface.

Many women experience hot flushes around the time of menopause - and when these “heat waves” come on, it causes red cheeks for a short period of time. Drinking alcohol, eating spicy foods, or foods containing MSG can also cause facial flushing – and a red face. In all of these cases, the red face and cheeks usually go away after minutes to hours. Some medications, particularly niacin and some blood pressure drugs, can cause a red face and facial flushing.

Two Medical Problems That Cause Red Cheeks

The most common cause of a red face and cheeks that’s constant is rosacea. Rosacea is a skin condition where the blood vessels dilate excessively in response to certain triggers, such as exposure to the sun, exercise, or particular types of foods. The face and cheeks usually look flushed and bumps that resemble acne appear on the face – and the skin may burn. With rosacea, the facial redness can last for several days at a time. This skin condition isn’t curable, but the symptoms can be controlled with medications.

Another less frequent cause of a red face and cheeks is an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. This disease causes redness and a rash that centers around the nose and spreads into the cheeks – which gives a generalized red appearance to the face. People with SLE usually have other symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Certain blood tests can be used to diagnose this disease.

Other Causes of a Red Face

There are other less common causes of a red face and red cheeks, including some types of malignant tumors, diabetes, heart conditions, and neurological diseases - such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. An overactive thyroid and diabetes can also cause flushing and a red face. These conditions generally also cause other symptoms – not just a red face. 

What Causes Red Cheeks: The Bottom Line?

When you have a red face that won’t go away, the most likely cause is rosacea – but it’s important to get a definitive diagnosis since some conditions that cause red cheeks and a red face can be serious. See your doctor for a complete exam if you’re having facial redness or flushing.

References:

  • Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology - Volume 55, Issue 2. August 2006.
  • Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.


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