Erythrophobia is the term for fear of blushing. A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences extreme fear or anxiety about a particular situation or object.
If a person experiences severe blushing, it can lead to erythrophobia, which can adversely affect their work and social life.
A person may avoid meeting other people or engaging in situations, such as interviews or public speaking, that may cause them to blush.
Keep reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for erythrophobia.
Blushing occurs mainly on the cheeks and forehead, but it can also spread to the ears, neck, and upper chest.
Blushing is a common physical response to feeling embarrassed or anxious. Increased blood flow underneath the surface of the skin causes blushing, but scientists are unclear why certain social situations cause blood flow to increase in the face.
One research paper from 2012 suggests that the effect of blushing may be to elicit compassion, trust, or help from others.
Blushing is a complex and involuntary response to several social situations. A person may blush if they make a real or perceived mistake in front of other people, but a person may also blush in positive interactions, such as when they receive thanks or compliments.
Social anxiety may also cause erythrophobia as people with social anxiety tend to become embarrassed or stressed easily in social situations and are more likely to blush.
People with social anxiety often fear being judged by others or embarrassing themselves, which may make their fear of blushing worse.
Social anxiety can also make erythrophobia worse. People with social anxiety may hyperfocus on how others view their blushing, and these perceived adverse perceptions might make them fear blushing more.
The symptoms of erythrophobia have associations with symptoms in other anxiety disorders.
These symptoms can include:
- a churning feeling or butterflies in the stomach
- panic attacks
- fast breathing
- fast heartbeat
A person with erythrophobia may worry about the social cost of blushing. For instance, a person may believe that they will lose social support if people see them blush, or that other people will think negatively of them if they blush.
People with social anxiety and phobias often experience higher levels of self-focused attention (SFA). This means that a person focuses a lot on their reactions and behavior during social interactions.
Those with erythrophobia may be very aware that they are blushing, and noticing that they are blushing might worsen the blushing and erythrophobia.
A range of treatment options is available for erythrophobia, including treating the excessive blushing itself. Treatments can include therapy, medication, or surgery.
Treatments for physical blushing and treating a person’s erythrophobia are different.
As erythrophobia is an anxiety disorder, doctors treat it in similar ways to social anxiety disorder (SAD). However, they will focus on a specific fear of blushing, and treatment may include.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
A person can try types of talking therapy to help manage their erythrophobia, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people to break down and understand their feelings and responses and create coping strategies to help them manage their symptoms in the future.
Task concentration training (TCT)
During social situations, a person with high SFA may not pay much attention to the other people in a group or to the task they are doing. A person with high SFA can become acutely aware of blushing.
A person can improve their erythrophobia with TCT, which consists of three steps:
- understanding the effects of their SFA and where their attention lies during social interactions
- focusing their attention outward instead of inward in non-threatening situations
- focusing their attention outward instead of inward in threatening situations
During TCT, a person can retrain themselves to focus on tasks and not their reactions and blushing.
Exposure therapy aims to reduce avoidance strategies, such as averting the eyes or hiding the face, and safety behaviors, such as wearing makeup to disguise blushing.
Over time, frequent exposure to blushing without using safety behaviors or avoidance strategies will make a person feel more comfortable when they blush and reduce their erythrophobia.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation. The practice involves a person focusing their attention on the present moment without being reactive or anticipating outcomes.
This focus on a specific task can divert a person’s attention away from blushing and help reduce erythrophobia.
There is no specific medication for treating erythrophobia.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are types of antidepressants that doctors prescribe to treat anxiety disorders. These can reduce the anxiety a person feels about blushing.
Doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines to lower anxiety and symptoms of erythrophobia, although they are addictive and are often not suitable for long-term use.
Beta-blockers do not treat psychological symptoms of anxiety disorders. They treat the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as fast heartbeat and shaking. Beta-blockers can help manage these symptoms if a person knows they will experience erythrophobia in a certain situation.
Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) is a procedure that can reduce facial blushing and erythrophobia.
The procedure involves cutting the sympathetic nerves that regulate sweating and blushing.
A doctor will only recommend surgery as a last resort if no other treatments have worked
The ETS procedure takes place under general anesthetic and involves the surgeon making a small incision underneath the armpit.
The surgeon allows the lung on the side of the incision to collapse, making room for them to carry out the procedure.
They then insert a small camera into the incision to locate and cut the right nerves.
ETS may lead to side effects. When a surgeon conducts the procedure to treat sweating, compensatory hyperhidrosis may occur. This means that sweating may stop in one area but increase in another area. This usually occurs on the chest or back.
When a person undergoes ETS to treat excessive blushing, the procedure may only be successful on one side of their face, and the person still blushes on the other side of their face.
According to the Circulation Foundation, 93% of people who had ETS surgery were completely cured of excessive sweating after 15 years of follow-up appointments.
However, as erythrophobia is an anxiety disorder, blocking the physical blushing mechanisms may not stop a person’s fear of blushing.
After surgical treatment, some people experience phantom blushing, which can worsen erythrophobia. Phantom blushing makes a person feels as though they are blushing when they are not.
Erythrophobia is a form of social anxiety that can adversely impact a person’s social interactions and daily life.
Although blushing is a common physical response to emotional triggers, experts do not entirely understand what triggers blushing and erythrophobia.
As a result, treatments focus on managing the symptoms of social anxiety that may cause erythrophobia or make it worse.
There are many treatment options for erythrophobia, including talking therapy, exposure therapy, medication, and surgery.
If a person can manage any wider social anxiety symptoms with these options, they may find that their erythrophobia symptoms improve.