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What is an Alcoholic Nose (Rhinophyma)? 

Alcoholic nose is also known by the medical term rhinophyma. It is a condition that causes the nose to become swollen, bumpy, and red in appearance. 

Also referred to as drinker’s nose or alcohol nose, this condition may occur from a skin condition called rosacea

Chronic alcohol use can also result in or aggravate the symptoms of alcoholic nose or drinker’s nose.

Someone with a bulbous and red nose may feel self-conscious, and it may affect their mental health.

What Does an Alcoholic Nose Look Like? 

Alcoholic noses are typically red, bumpy, and swollen in appearance. It may look like a bulbous nose.

What are the Symptoms of Rhinophyma?

Alcoholic nose is characterized by symptoms of rosacea, including:

  • Red nose
  • Red face
  • Bumpy nose
  • Red cheeks
  • Flushed skin
  • Dry skin
  • Skin with a purple-like hue
  • Broken blood vessels on the nose 
  • A bulbous nose shape
  • Waxy or rough facial or nose skin
  • Red patches on the skin
  • Red tip of the nose
  • Large bumps, pimples, or pustules on the nose
  • Enlarged pores on the nose or cheeks
  • Swollen nose

In the early stages of rhinophyma, these symptoms are mild to moderate. People who have rosacea may not develop an alcoholic nose until years later in life.

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What Causes Rhinophyma? Is it Really Caused by Drinking? 

Doctors are not yet clear on the direct cause of a drinker’s nose as it is different from regular weight gain. It is more common in men than women and those with fair skin and European ancestry.

People with an alcoholic nose often have a genetic predisposition to or a family history of rosacea. This is especially if treatment for the skin condition is ineffective. 

Many doctors advise individuals with rosacea to avoid drinking and cooking with alcohol to prevent aggravating the skin disorder.

Alcohol consumption may not be responsible for rosacea or drinker’s nose. But it is still linked to chronic skin inflammation because it can aggravate flare-ups.

Can Alcohol Worsen the Effects of Rhinophyma?

Alcohol addiction and skin disorders like rosacea are linked because alcohol can worsen existing skin conditions. 

Drinking alcohol dilates the blood vessels, which makes them more likely to burst. Because of this, people who indulge in heavy drinking and have rosacea may experience side effects like an alcoholic nose.

Until recently, doctors believed that rosacea and drinker’s nose could be caused directly by drinking too much alcohol. 

However, a 2015 study at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine quashed the theory that consuming alcohol and rhinophyma is connected.6

Alcohol damage does not directly cause a drinker's nose. But it can worsen rosacea, leading to a drinker's nose if left untreated.

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Who is at Risk of Developing an Alcoholic Nose? 

While women develop rhinophyma, the condition is much more common in men. Those with fair skin or a family history of rosacea are also at higher risk of suffering from drinker’s nose.

Tips for Managing Rhinophyma

Medical advice for those seeking treatment from a skin condition like rosacea includes avoiding risk factors to reduce redness and rosacea flare-ups.

Lifestyle changes to reduce rhinophyma nose involve cutting out or avoiding the following:

  • Spicy foods
  • Sunlight
  • Being in the wind
  • High emotions
  • Certain exercises (yoga, running, etc.)
  • Certain prescription drugs, like blood pressure medications
  • Makeup and other cosmetic products
  • Red wine

However, these lifestyle changes are ineffective for reducing swelling or the appearance of red bumps of a person’s nose due to rhinophyma.

Treatment Options for Rhinophyma

Rosacea can be treated with oral antibiotics and topical creams. 

Dermatologists recommend anti-acne treatments like a topical cream to moisturize dry skin resulting from rosacea. They also recommend using sunscreen to treat rhinophyma.

Surgery may be required to remove large nose bumps resulting from severe rosacea if they interfere with breathing.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

No matter how severe a substance abuse problem may seem, most people with alcohol addiction can benefit from treatment. 

One-third of people who receive treatment for alcohol problems have no additional symptoms one year later.5 

Many others significantly reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related issues.

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that doctors diagnose when an individual’s drinking leads to distress or harm. 

Alcohol addiction can range from mild to severe and is diagnosed when someone answers ‘yes’ to two or more of the following questions:

In the past year, have you:5

  • Experienced times when you ended up drinking more alcohol or for longer than you expected?
  • More than once wanted to reduce or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t? 
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or recovering from the aftereffects? 
  • Experienced craving to drink? 
  • Found that drinking—or being sick from drinking—often intervened with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job issues? Or school problems? 
  • Continued to drink even though it led to trouble with your loved ones? 
  • Given up or reduced activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, to drink? 
  • More than once gotten into dangerous situations while or after drinking that heightened your chances of getting hurt?
  • Continued to drink alcohol even though it was leading you to feel depressed or anxious or contributing to another health issue? Or after experiencing a memory blackout? 
  • Drank much more than you once did for the effects you want? Or found that your typical number of alcoholic beverages had much less effect than before? 
  • Discovered that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you experienced withdrawal symptoms, like trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not present?

If you experience any of these symptoms, your excessive alcohol consumption may be a cause for concern. 

The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for treatment. A doctor or another health professional can formally assess your symptoms to learn if alcohol use disorder is present.

Types of Treatment

Significant advances in the medical industry for the past 60 years have brought about various treatment methods for alcohol addiction. However, there is no one-size-fits-all, and what may work for one patient may not for another.

Understanding the different options can be a helpful first step.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments aim to change alcohol consumption behavior through counseling. Health professionals lead these treatments.

Medications

There are currently three medications approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their alcohol consumption and avoid relapse. 

A primary care physician or another health professional prescribes these medications. They may be used alone or with counseling treatment.

Acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the most common drugs used to treat alcohol use disorder.

Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step addiction recovery programs provide peer support for people stopping or cutting back on their alcohol consumption. 

Combined with treatment from health professionals, support groups can provide a valuable extra layer of support.

However, as support groups are anonymous, it is challenging for researchers to determine their success rates compared with treatments led by health professionals.

Resources

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Rosacea, National Health Service (NHS), January 2020

Rhinophyma, MedlinePlus, September 2021

Brooks, Philip J et al. “The alcohol flushing response: an unrecognized risk factor for esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption.” PLoS medicine vol. 6,3 (2009): e50

Buddenkotte, Joerg, and Martin Steinhoff. “Recent advances in understanding and managing rosacea.” F1000Research vol. 7 F1000 Faculty Rev-1885. 3 Dec. 2018

Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, August 2021

Laun, Jake et al. “Rhinophyma.” Eplasty vol. 15 ic25. 1 May. 2015

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