From Sweat to Blushing: Top 6 Body Betrayals

For some, uncontrolled physical reactions can dominate their lives and careers.

ByLAUREN COX and DAN CHILDS<br>ABC News Medical Unit
June 02, 2009, 1:16 PM

June 3, 2009&#151; -- For 30 years Wendy Allot had no control over the color of her face.

"I'm a big time blusher," said Allot, 46, of Kirkland, Wash. "I could turn so red that it almost became a purple hue. It was not attractive or adorable -- it was humiliating."

By age 11 Allot said she'd turn beet red anytime she thought anybody was looking at her. Then she'd turn beet red thinking about the possibility of turning beet red.

"So I blushed basically from the fear of blushing. It was ongoing," said Allot. Then, at age 37 Allot took an antidepressant for depression and discovered as a side effect that the blushing just stopped.

"I had no one to go to that thought it was not even a problem," said Allot. "When you are blushing probably 50 to 75 times daily there is a problem."

For more information on the science and social cues behind blushing, click here.

Blushing might be one common way our bodies betray us, but it isn't the only way. From obscure conditions such as spasmodic dysphonia to the tendency of some to faint at the sight of needles, the human body can sometimes override our consciousness and self control.

The following is a brief list of some of the more serious conditions that left people feeling out of touch with their own skin and bones.

"Blushing is something I don't have control over. I can blush at the drop of a hat, whether I am embarrassed, happy, sad, angry or not," Bill Leverich of Kansas wrote to

Leverich said it hasn't affected his personal life, but he does wonder what it does to his career.

"I wonder if they think I am lying to them or just uncomfortable talking with them, when 99 percent of the time I have nothing to be embarrassed or concerned about," wrote Leverich. "I try to see it as a positive in that I feel it makes others feel they may be in control, while I in fact am, but it can still cause me to lose some focus when I can feel my face turning red."

Why Do People Blush

Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University who studies blushing, says the reaction has more to do being watched than with guilt.

"It tends to be embarrassment. But the more broad reason is that people blush when they receive undesired social attention," said Leary, who added that anyone can have the blood rush to their face in the spotlight, it will just show up more in people with fairer skin.

Unfortunately for the blushers, Leary said it's almost impossible to stop the red hue once it started. "You can't do it by force of will," he said. "There is a suggestion in one study that at the moment it is happening then to try to blush as hard as you can."

Frequent blushers may have more hope trying to prevent a bright red hue than stem it once it starts, according to dermatologist Dr. Doris Day.

"Blushing happens usually because of some sort of a stress trigger. You might not feel the stress anymore but some point in your life you felt a trigger," she said.

Day says some drugs, including histamines and beta blockers have been shown to reduce redness in the face either from social triggers or from heat, spicy food and alcohol.

"Sometimes taking beta blockers when it's going to be a stressful situation can help," said Day. "Histamines help more for the physical triggers."

However, Day said using histamines on a short-term basis will not help a red face: they must be taken over time in consultation with a doctor.

Excessive Sweating: Hyperhidrosis

Sweating isn't exactly a bodily function one can control but the vast majority of people have the luxury of sweating when everyone else in the same hot car, same basketball team, or classroom is just as hot as they are.

That's not so for the 2 to 3 percent of people with the unpredictable, uncontrollable sweating of hyperhidrosis.

"Ever since I was in elementary school, I'd say probably second grade, I remember being in class and my hands just sweating as I worked, having my hand on a paper, and the paper being saturated from my hands sweating so much," Wendy Burke told ABC News' "Good Morning America" in 2004. "So, I mean it's really been something I've lived with almost all my life."

Burke said at first adults didn't believe her and doctors did not take her seriously. They said, 'Oh, you're just clammy.' Everybody blew me off."

Dr. David Pariser, current secretary of the International Hyperhidrosis Society, told "Good Morning America" that many hyperhidrosis patients suffer socially and practically from the condition.

"I constantly hear about patients who are having to change their shirt three to four times a day, who stuff diapers in the sleeves of their shirt under their arms to absorb the moisture, who only buy black clothes and wear multiple layers, who never wear tank tops in the summer because they're afraid of the embarrassment of the sweating," he said.

Pariser said the cause of hyperhidrosis is unknown, but doctors have found some effective treatments including sending electrical pulses through sweat glands and injecting Botulinum Toxin Type A, commonly known as Botox, to paralyze sweat glands.

Spasmodic Dysphonia: An Uncontrolled Voice

For a rare disease that cripples the vocal chords ability to make the most common sound, spasmodic dysphonia has some notable speakers and politicians as sufferers.

"It's a very rare disorder, and there is really very little known about it -- especially back in the '80s and '90s," said Dr. Phillip Song, a laryngologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.

People with spasmodic dysphonia in the media, such as National Public Radio talk show host Diane Rehm, have helped bring spasmodic dysphonia to national attention.

But few people knew what was wrong when Lorraine Rappaport started noticing her voice changing back in the early 1980s while working as a school counselor in California.

"It came on gradually; it isn't like anything that happens overnight," said Rappaport. "My voice got very hoarse, and there were certain letters of the alphabet at the beginning of words that I could not say easily."

Slowly, her condition started to interfere with her job and her communication with others.

"There were times where I had to stop and think, because I wanted to avoid a word because I couldn't say it clearly." Rappaport started avoiding words that began with "h," "ch," "k" or "c" -- a difficult task in English. She had never heard of spasmodic dysphonia at the time, and physicians kept telling her the problem was psychological, especially since she was getting a divorce at the time.

But by the early 1990s, Rappaport found treatment for her condition in a National Institutes of Health clinical trial using Botox injections. The NIH flew her to Maryland from California to receive the low-dose injections, and she started to see an improvement.

Today Botulinum Toxin Type A is used to treat many of the 30,000 Americans suffer from this condition.

Fainting at the Sight of a Needle

It's a phobia that filmmakers have loved for years. At a tense moment, someone, usually a man, sees a needle and crumples to the floor.

But it wasn't until 1997 that the mental health community officially recognized needle phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Now, mental health experts estimate that needle phobia may affect up to 10 percent of the population — and it may even be inherited.

"Every time I went to the doctor, it was a shop of horrors," says Keith Lamb, an emergency medical technician in Columbus, Ohio, and long-time needle phobia advocate.

For years, Lamb could not even walk through a dentist's door, due to his needle phobia. But he says his fear of needles truly came to a head when he enrolled in EMT training, and was required to "practice" injections with a partner.

"I can dish it out, but I just can't take it," says Lamb.

In belonephobia, the most prevalent form of needle phobia, the mere sight of a needle triggers a physical domino effect known as a vasovagal reaction: a central nerve flares up, then blood vessels dilate, blood pressure drops, and the person faints.

For many, it's not just the prospect of getting a shot, but sensitivity to the actual pain of the shot itself that's at the root of their phobia.

In order to administer an injection, a health care provider must navigate carefully through tissue, tiny veins and nerves to an injection site. Extra movement can push medication into the wrong layer of tissue, causing weird sensations, or push a needle through the other side of the vein, necessitating a repeat try.

"When we do a puncture, we go into a network of small nerves," says Dr. Sudhir Diwan, director of pain medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. "When someone jumps, there can sometimes be a nerve injury, and that causes more pain."

Fortunately, non-fainting needlephobes like Lamb may not have to wait long for science to find a physical rationale for their fear. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta are already beginning to use MRI scans to map feelings associated with dread in the brain. Unlocking these secrets may eventually lead to new approaches that will take the sting out of shots for those with a fear of needles.

Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome

For those who have never experienced persistent sexual arousal syndrome, or PSAS, its symptoms may seem more like a godsend or a dirty joke than a debilitating condition.

However, for the women who experience PSAS -- which causes them to live perpetually at the brink of orgasm -- the condition is a nightmarish curse. And up until 2001, it was a curse that didn't even have a name.

"I thought I was alone in this," Heather Dearmon, a 34-year-old South Carolina woman who experiences PSAS, told ABC News' "Primetime." "And this is after seeing every kind of doctor imaginable -- gynecologist, psychologist, psychiatrist -- you know, everything. And none had ever heard of anything."

Relief from the condition is often as elusive as sympathy. The sensations, which are not brought about by fantasies or other sexual thoughts, are often only partially relieved through orgasm. For some women, even sex does not help quell their arousal, and on occasion can even make the sensations worse.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a professor of surgery at U.C. San Diego and the head of the Sexual Health Program at Alvarado Hospital, studies the condition and says understanding of it is spare, even within the medical community.

"Every lecture I give on this, there's always smirks in the audience: 'Oh, I wish my wife was like this.' These are professional physicians," Goldstein said. "And I said, 'No, no, you're, you don't really want this. You do not want your wife to have this, please.'"

Indeed, the mortifying nature of PSAS leads Goldstein to believe that perhaps thousands of women suffer from the condition without seeking a doctor's help.

"To me this is a sickness," Dearmon said. "This is not, it's not something we've chosen. ... I would rather never have another orgasm in my life for the rest of my life than to have this problem."

Music-Induced Seizures

While it may be true that musical taste resides in the ear of the beholder, it is somewhat less common that a song can send a listener into an epileptic seizure.

But such was the experience of Stacey Gayle. Worse, the song that brought about her seizure was by dancehall reggae artist Sean Paul -- a favorite or hers.

"It was terrible," Gayle, a 24-year-old New Yorker, told "It didn't even have to be that loud."

One of Gayle's first music-induced seizures happened at a cookout where the song "Temperature" was being played. Some time after this, she had a similar experience at a restaurant.

The seizures were so bad that Gayle finally had part of her brain surgically removed in an effort to control her problem.

"She realized her life was going out of control with these seizures happening," said Dr. Ashesh Mehta, the director of epilepsy surgery at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

Mehta recalled meeting Gayle in February to discuss her condition. When Gayle's mother played "Temperature" on an MP3 player for her daughter to hear, a music-induced seizure followed.

"It was amazing to me," said Mehta. "We got a seizure when we put her music on."

Brain researchers believe such seizures can occur when the part of the brain that processes emotions associated with a certain type of music overlap with areas of the brain that trigger seizures.

About 70 percent of people with epilepsy are able to control their seizures through medication. For those who still have seizures or cannot handle the side effects of the medication, doctors consider brain surgery.

"We did try a number of different anti-seizure medications, but it was clear that her epilepsy was not responding," said Dr. Alan Ettinger, chief of the epilepsy center at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. "In her case, in addition to music setting off the epilepsy, even the very thought of the song started to provoke the seizures."

ABC News' Kirk Fernandes and Mary Harris contributed to this article

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