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Everyone knows how debilitating it can be to blush, your feelings of embarrassment show up straight away, and then you can feel even more embarrassed and uncomfortable.
It’s thought that blushing is a serious problem for around 5 per cent of us, and the effects of it can be devastating. It is called chronic blushing (Idiopathic Craniofacial Erythema) and it isn’t the normal blushing that we see on TV and in movies.
It often happens in situations that aren’t embarrassing at all.
It is not only a physical problem, but also a psychological one. In 2012, a 20 year old student in Washington found the effects of chronic blushing so debilitating that he committed suicide.
He left a note, which read, “I am tired of blushing… it is exhausting to wake up everyday and have to find little ways to avoid blushing situation.”
According to Epworth Healthcare, intense blushing is a severe flush (often for no reason), and also results in feeling heat in the face and excessive perspiration. Situations as small as having a conversation with friends can bring it on, and it can take up to two minutes for the blush to disappear.
Sound familiar to you?
Lap Surgery Australia, who specialise in surgery for severe facial blushing, say that it generally affects adults between the ages of 18 to 50. It can be caused by a combination of factors, but is primarily down to the over-activity of involuntary nerves (which are part of our temperature controlling mechanism).
While it might sound comical to some, it’s actually now classified as a disease of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. (Post continues after gallery.)
Treating chronic blushing is a complicated matter. Medications such as beta blockers, clonidine, antidepressants and a variety of psychological and alternative treatments are recommended.
However, the only treatment which is known, scientifically, to work for severe facial blushing is ETS surgery.
The operation to treat severe facial blushing involves clipping the sympathetic chain at the level of the second rib just below the stellate ganglion. (Yep, that didn’t make a lot of sense to us either.)
The surgery is a last resort, and the risks include anaesthetic reactions, haemorrhage and infection, a permanent droop to the eyelid (Horner’s Syndrome), which is caused by damage to the nerve, and also compensatory sweating, which means other areas of the body sweat heavily (such as your legs or chest).
Doesn’t sound appealing, right?
A surgeon in Sweden, Christer Drott, told This American Life recently about the effectiveness of the surgery. He says he’s performed this operation more than 2,500 times.
He’s worked on a long range survey of thousands of people who had the surgery and were tracked for 15 years. He found that 73 per cent of the blushers were satisfied with the surgery. (Yes, that means 27 per cent weren’t.)
“The fact that in the beginning we were not aware that we had no effect on the blotchy type on the neck and chest. It only has an effect on the rapid onset type of blushing...the blushing that emerges within seconds," Drott explains.
So his advice? Well, it is a little surprising. And it is the simplest thing. It doesn't involve medication, further surgery, or any kind of medical intervention. It is, just not to care.
“Some people blush terribly, and they don't care... I've seen the former Norwegian prime minister (Gro Harlem Brundtland) blushing like a streetlamp. But she didn't care. She was prime minister anyway,” Drott says.
For some who suffer from chronic blushing, it can affect their self-esteem. Meaghan Ramsay, The Global Director of the Dove self-esteem project spoke with Mia Freedman about the effects of low self esteem.