Goose Bumps on Skin, Causes and Treatment

Goose bumps, pimples or flesh are temporal changes on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop. They are caused by chain of events that triggers stimulus change like cold or strong emotions experiences;fear, euphoria or sexual arousal. The medical term for the effect is cutis anserina or horripilation and piloerection.

Goose bumps on chest
Goose bumps on chest

The phenomenon makes one skin look like plucked bird, or chicken skin, sometimes referred as” skin orgasm”. Keratosis pilaris is a permanent form of goose flesh condition. Permanent goose pimples start at childhood and may improves, disappear or deteriorate in adult hood. Keratosis pilaris is hereditary condition with no cure but can be improved though exfoliating, chemical peels etc.

What causes goose bumps?

The stimulus change causes a nerve discharge from sympathetic nervous system (involuntary portion of nervous system) responsible for “fight or flight response”. The nerve discharges make the contraction of arrectores pilorum (little hair erector muscle) which elevates hair follicles above other the rest of skin surface.

These tiny elevations are rough pimply condition called goose bumps. The causes include:

1. Extreme temperatures

Horripilation is a physiological condition inherited from apes’ ancestors, which was useful and important to them. The bumps are caused by contraction of miniature muscles attached to each hair. The contraction creates a shallow depression, causing the hair to stand especially when body feels cold.

In animal it is known to create an insulation. The thicker the hair the more the heat will be retained. However, the reaction is useless to human since we lack hair coat, nevertheless it still persists forming goose bumps on skin.

Goose bumps due to extreme temperatures
Goose bumps on thighs due to extreme temperatures

2. Intense emotion

Human beings experience extreme emotions and respond in a variety of ways. The main responses are increased depth or heaviness of breathing and increased adrenal activities in muscles and under the skin.

Noticeable responses that accompany goose bumps are sweating, increased heart rates, goose flesh. These intense emotions are triggered by what one hears, see, think, smell taste and touch.

Goose bumps on legs triggered by adrenaline

As body prepare itself for running and fighting, the sympathetic nerve system triggers adrenaline hormones that speed up heart rate and metabolism. The body temperature raises in presence of sexual arousal, stressful situation, fear etc. triggering formation of goose pimples.

Adrenaline is produced in beanlike glands that sit atop of the kidney. Other signs of adrenaline are trembling hangs, tears, sweaty palms and “butterflies” feeling in stomach, increase heart beats and blood pressure.

3. Medical conditions

Can goose bumps be a symptom of a medical condition? In most cases the goose bumps are due to temporal stimuli response to situation like sad, happy, stressful, fearful or even sexual arousal. However, Yes the goose bumps can be a sign of medical conditions which include;

Chill goose bumps
Chill goose bumps on hands
  • Chills; fever associated with influenza, cellulitis, malaria, meningitis, common cold, pneumonia, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections etc.
  • Automatic dysreflexia; overreaction of nervous system as a result of spinal cord injuries.it may also be caused by traumatic brain injury, withdrawal form addictive substances, stimulants, medication side effects, Guillain-Barre syndrome etc.
  • Keratosis pilaris; a common harmless hereditary skin condition.
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy; a chronic seizure disorder.

4. Adaptation

Some biologists believe that goose pimples are a vestigial reflex adapted from the apes. In apes, the reflex would make the predator raise the body hair to scare off larger predators or increase the amount of air trapped in the fur to make it more insulating and warmer.

In human beings this reflex seems to have no practical purpose. The reflex of producing goose bumps or cutis anserina is called pilomotor reflex or piloerection. It increases the heart rates while blood rushes to the muscles to give them additional oxygen forming cutis anserina.

Normal adaptation goose pimples on skin

5. Faulty firing

Sometimes goose bumps or cutis anserina may occur for no apparent reason at all due to fault firing of sympathetic nervous system. Faulty firing is uncommon, however patient of pudendal neuropathy may develop goose bumps on genital region and buttocks accompanied by pelvic pain.

Autonomic dysreflexia may also cause extreme high blood pressure, headache, sweating, anxiety, facial flushing and goose bumps as a result of spinal cord injury. Various infections and medical conditions affecting nervous system may also cause unexplained goose bumps on your skin.

Goose bumps on hand

6. Stress

Stress reactions are the same as when faced with danger and can trigger cutis anserina. The fight or flight response triggered by brain when we experience danger is triggered by stress, maximizing body resources to respond to stress. Every day activities elicit range of emotion from anger anxiety and fear when completing personal and work tasks. Interpersonal relationship may elicit stress even when there is no physical threat or danger triggering goose bumps on skin.

7. Music

How does music cause goose flesh? Listening to emotionally moving music is a common trigger of aesthetic chills or frission. Researcher dub frission as “skin orgasm”. Studies have proved two thirds of the population feels frission like wave of pleasure running all over the skin as we emotionally react to unexpected stimuli or particular music. Music therefore can cause formation of goose flesh on your skin.

music concert goose bumps
Music concert goose bumps on skin

The journal psychology of music indicates that people who intellectually immerse themselves to music do experience frisson more often and intensely then others. Studies have shown that people who do have unusually active imaginations appreciate beauty, nature, often doe reflect deeply on their feelings and love. These elements are inherently emotional while others are cognitive; imaginational and intellectual curiosity.

8. Opiate withdrawal

Withdrawal from alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, narcotics, sedative- hypnotics may cause goose bumps among many other side effects. Withdrawal form methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine may cause opiate use disorder characterized by goose flesh or cutis anserina.

9. Ingestion.

Food, medication and herbal supplement that affects the body temperature, heart beat and blood flow may cause piloerection. Use of yohimbine found from the back of yohimbe tree, that is used to treat erectile dysfunction may cause goose flesh on skin.

Yohimbine is also used as dietary supplements can either increase or decrease systemic blood pressure resulting to over stimulation, sweating, insomnia, raped heart rate and anomalous blood pressure and ultimately goose flesh.

Abnormal goose bumps (cutis anserina) on skin

The main reasons for having abnormal goose pimples is abnormal functioning of the autonomic nervous system. These are goose bumps that persist beyond physiological responses and may be due to pathological factors. Some of the symptoms that may present include

  • Change in appetite.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Abnormal high or low blood pressure.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Redness or pale skin.
  • High or low body temperatures.
  • General pain or aches.
  • Fast or slow heart beats.

What are permanent goose bumps?

Appearance of cutis anserina on skin in some suffers may not be associated with weather conditions and emotions but may be permanent in nature. The main reasons for permanent goose pimples is abnormal functioning of the autonomic nervous system.

Permanent goose pimples or rough and bumpy skin is called keratosis pilaris. It affects people of all ages and gender. Mostly, it  starts at childhood and may get worse in puberty, improve or disappear in adulthood.

Keratosis pilaris bumps picture

This is an inherited condition that occur due to keratin build up in the hair follicle on your skin. The excess keratin blocks the hair follicle with plugs of hard, rough skin (dead skin) resulting to formation to red or pink tiny bumps, goose bumps. The condition does not itch although associated with sensation of horny plugs on the skin. The tiny plugs of skin widen the pores making it have spotty appearance.

Keratosis pilaris is usually associated with dry skin conditions like ichthyosis and eczema. The spotting makes one skin looks like “chicken skin” or feel rough like sand paper. In some people, there may be inflammation or may have itches around the bumps. The condition is not contagious and it has no treatment, can only improve on its own.

Treatment of keratosis pilaris

These skin pimples are harmless and do not have known treatment. However, the condition improves to adulthood. The following measures may help improve your rash.

  • Moisturize your skin with suitable creams when dry. Creams that contains salicylic acid, lactic acid and urea are more effective moisturizers. Creams that contain retinol derived from vitamin A can help improve the condition.
  • Take lukewarm showers and avoid hot baths.
  • Use non soap cleansers rather than ordinary soap. Ordinary soap may aggravate skin dryness making the condition worse.
  • Exfoliate regularly or take microdermabrasion, a cosmetic exfoliation treatment offered in health spas.
  • Gently rub the skin with a pumice stone or exfoliating foam pad to exfoliate the rough skin.
  • Shave with gel or cream. Letting gel and cream sit on your skin before make the hair soft and prevent irritation.
  • Use of home humidifier may help prevent keratosis getting worse during winter when humid is low.
  • Dermatologist prescription like chemical peel that can strip extra skin cell such as Tretinoin or prescribed antibiotics may help improve keratosis pilaris condition.

Sources and Reference.

Healthline: What medical condition can cause goose bumps?

Livestrong: What is the meaning of goose bump on skin?

Wikipedia: What are the side effects of yohimbine?

Wikipedia: What causes goose bumps?