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Skin Care and Diseases

Red Ear Syndrome

11/07/2005

Question:

Every day after work (I work in an air-conditioned office) my ears turn a deep red color, like they are severely flushed. This flushing lasts for 45 minutes to 2 hours. It began about 2 years ago and has progressively gotten worse (at first it would only happen around once a week and at different times). This NEVER happens in the mornings and I`ve found that if I spend the morning outside it can delay the onset of these "attacks" or skip them altogether. During the period after work (or in the afternoon on the weekends), there are certain "triggers" that will cause these attacks to occur within a few minutes. These triggers include touching the ears, being exposed to heat, or strong emotions. I have found a website that describes the condition precisely (www.earsred.cjb.net), but no one whom can describe an effective treatment. I have read about a procedure called ETS in which a chain of sympathetic nerves is severed, preventing the flushing of the face. Would this treatment be effective for this problem?

Answer:

The sudden flushing of parts of the body may be intrinsic to the individual so that flushing with mild embarrassment or minor heat changes can be very frustrating and there is no good way to reverse that process.  However, there are other syndromes that have been associated with periodic flushing, persistent redness and even discoloration.  Patients with malignant carcinoma can present early with the same findings.  The association with cryo- and pyro-globulind may be associated with skin changes that may persist.  Early persistent discoloration and swelling of the ears may be associated with inflammation of cartilage close to the ears and later other parts of the body.  Chronic urticaria may be focal in certain areas of the body.  This can be acquired or can be part of a congenital group of syndromes.

The most important thing for you to do is to see your board certified dermatologist so that there can be a careful review of your entire health status to be certain that there is no underlying dysfunction that might jeopardize your health.

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Response by:

Charles L Heaton, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati