"Why Are They Blushing? Do They Fancy Me? What Have They Been Up To?"S

Pathological blushing, or erythrophobia, apparently sucks.

Blushing is a horrible feeling: the knowledge that your body is completely out of your control and betraying you, which in turn makes you more embarrassed, which then becomes visible to whoever you're talking to, who starts looking away, which makes everything that much worse. Those of us cursed with an easy blush reflex know the pain of that telltale flush all too well, and it's bad enough. And for those who suffer from pathological blushing, it's much worse. One of those disorders that seems kind of trivial to a lot of people, it's actually severe enough that a lot of people are undergoing an operation for it. The vicious circle of blushing can lead to social anxiety disorder and have major real-life implications.

The Guardian profiles one man, a professor of psychiatry no less, whose blushing was such an issue that he was afraid to take on a high-profile position because of the amount of public face-time it would require. As he's quoted, "When I was working in a hospital I was in a constant state of alert because of the possibility of meeting either one of my students or one of my patients, and that meant almost invariably turning red. For a figure of authority it's a torment to blush in front of students or patients for no reason."He's one of those who had excellent results from surgery.

The operation, called an endoscopic transthoracic sympathectomy, involves cutting or clamping part of the sympathetic nerve - the nerve that causes sweating and blushing when stimulated. It runs from the belly button to the neck, but the easiest way to reach it is by making incisions beneath the armpit. "After the operation," says Jadresic, "I no longer turned bright red whenever I heard someone say my name."

While some experts feel the operation is more placebo than not, and that the side-effects - such as excessive sweating - can outnumber the benefits, for many it's a godsend. I have one friend — a redhead with a porcelain complexion that showed her slightest anxiety - who did biofeedback to help with her blushing, and gradually managed to reduce it "to the point where I could go on a date without getting into a weird spiral of mutual embarrassment — or making him think I was thinking about sleeping with him, which I then of course was, even if it held no appeal for me whatsoever. Yeah, not good."

Red Alert [Guardian]