Red Face

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a red face?

A red face is a condition in which you have redness, blushing or flushing of the face. It can be temporary and last just a few moments, or it can be present for days, weeks or months at a time.

A red face can be caused by a variety of underlying diseases, disorders and conditions. They include skin infections; skin conditions, such as rosacea, acne and eczema; and allergic and inflammatory conditions, such as sunburn, vasculitis, and allergies to foods, insect bites, and face creams. A red face can also be caused by fever, as well as emotional, environmental or dietary factors such as anger, heat, wind, coughing, or eating spicy foods. In other cases, skin conditions causing a red face can be inherited or develop due to genetic factors or aging. Some causes of an ongoing red face are preventable and others are not. Facial redness can be prevented in some cases with proper skin care and skin protection, including such practices as consistently using nonirritating or hypoallergenic facial cleansers and sunscreen.

It is important when you have a red face to pay close attention to all of your symptoms. Relay them to your licensed medical professional to help him or her pinpoint and treat its underlying cause.

In some cases, a red face can be a symptom of a serious and even life-threatening condition, such as hypertension or alcoholism. Seek prompt medical care if you have unexplained, persistent or recurring facial redness. Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause can reduce the risk of serious complications, such as loss of skin, disfigurement, or spread of infection.

A red face may also occur with an anaphylactic reaction, which is an immediately life-threatening type of allergic reaction that develops suddenly after exposure to an allergen. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, your child, or someone you are with, have symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylactic reaction symptoms include swollen tongue or face (and swelling in general), hives, itching, confusion, shortness of breath, and rapid breathing (more than about 18 breaths per minute for an adult).

What other symptoms might occur with a red face?

A red face can occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that may occur with a red face include:

Symptoms of alcohol use, abuse or alcoholism, such as excessive drinking, cravings for alcohol, and inability to control drinking

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, a red face may occur with other symptoms and certain combinations of symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a red face with any of these symptoms:

  • Bluish discoloration of the lips, nails, and possibly the skin (cyanosis)

  • Change in level of consciousness or mental status, such as fainting, confusion, lethargy, or decreased alertness

  • Chest pain or chest tightness

  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath

  • Hives on the face or neck or large areas of hives

  • Rapid pulse or palpitations

  • Swelling of the eyes, mouth, lips or throat

  • Throat tightness

What causes a red face?

A red face caused by strong emotions, such as anger, anxiety or embarrassment, is called blushing. Some people tend to blush more easily than others.

A red face can also be caused by a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that include skin conditions, allergies, inflammation, infections, and dietary habits.

Skin conditions that can cause a red face

A red face may be caused by skin conditions including:

  • Acne (bumps formed by clogged oil glands)

  • Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis; a common, chronic skin condition marked by itching, inflammation, redness and swelling of the skin

  • Rosacea (chronic inflammatory skin disorder)

Allergic and inflammatory causes of a red face

A red face may be caused by allergic reactions and inflammatory conditions including:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis, such as an allergy to a face cream or face wash

  • Allergy to an oral medication, food, or insect bite

  • Burns

  • Hypersensitivity vasculitis or allergic vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels often caused by an allergy to a medication)

  • Irritant contact dermatitis, which can be caused by poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac

  • Respiratory allergies

  • Sunburn

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation)

  • Toxic epidermal necrolysis (skin and mucosal loss due to a severe medication reaction)

Infectious causes of a red face

A red face may be caused by infections including:

  • Cellulitis (invasive bacterial infection of the skin and surrounding tissues)

  • Fifth disease (viral disease that causes a slapped cheek appearance)

  • Impetigo (bacterial skin infection)

  • Scarlet fever (infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria causing a red rash on the body and face)

Other causes of a red face

A red face may be caused by other diseases, disorders and conditions that include:

  • Alcohol consumption or alcoholism

  • Carcinoid tumor

  • Chapping from wind, cold or heat

  • Consumption of spicy or hot foods

  • Coughing or choking

  • Emotions, such as embarrassment, anxiety and anger

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Menopause and hot flashes

  • Stress

  • Use of certain medications, such as vitamin B3 and certain drugs used to treat cardiovascular disease and diabetes

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a red face

To diagnose the underlying cause of a red face, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms. You can best help your health care provider in diagnosing the underlying cause of a red face by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • How long have you had a red face?

  • Do you have other symptoms, such as fever or pain?

  • Before or while you experienced a red face, was the temperature hot?

  • Have you recently begun eating a new type of food or using a new type of cosmetic item on your skin?

  • How much alcohol do you drink? What medications are you taking and how long have you been taking them?

  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of a red face?

A red face can be caused by a serious underlying disease, disorder or condition, such as anaphylactic shock, alcoholism, and infection. Complications of untreated or poorly managed diseases, disorders or conditions can be serious and life threatening. In addition, appearance has significant importance in our society; a red face can greatly impact self-image and self-esteem. Follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce your risk of complications including:

  • Coma

  • Complications of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, including cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular disease, neurological disease, and cancer

  • Embarrassment, stress or anxiety

  • Low self-image and self-esteem

  • Permanent scarring or skin discoloration

  • Respiratory arrest from anaphylactic shock

  • Septicemia (blood infection) and sepsis (life-threatening, body-wide inflammatory reaction to infection)

  • Shock and coma

  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 6
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  3. How does lupus affect the skin? Lupus Foundation of America. http://www.lupus.org/webmodules/webarticlesnet/templates/new_empty.aspx?articleid=453&zoneid=76.
  4. Skin Rashes and Other Changes. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/545.html
  5. What is Fifth Disease? Fifthdisease.org. http://www.fifthdisease.org/.