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What is an “Alcoholic Nose” (Rhinophyma)?

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

January 24, 2019

Rhinophyma, also referred to as alcoholic nose, is a skin condition that affects the size, shape, and skin of the nose. It has often been believed that this condition was a result of alcoholism, but new research has brought this into question.

Commonly characterized by a swollen, red, bumpy appearance on the nose, the cause of rhinophyma (sometimes referred to as “alcoholic nose”) has often been attributed to alcoholism. New research has brought the connection between rhinophyma and alcoholism into question. Rosacea, which is closely related to many of the symptoms of rhinophyma, has been linked to alcoholism or the heavy consumption of alcohol.

What Is Rhinophyma, or Alcoholic Nose?

The term rhinophyma comes from the Greek words ‘rīnós’, meaning nose, and ‘phyma’, meaning growth.  Rhinophyma is a skin condition that affects the nasal region, primarily of Caucasian men, however, it can also affect women and individuals of different skin colors as well.  The condition can often take years to fully develop, beginning slowly with the reddening of the skin on the top of the nose.

Full blown rhinophyma is characterized by obvious changes to the size, shape, and skin of the nose. Often times, large, bulb-like growths will appear near the tip of the nasal passage. Rhinophyma symptoms will usually begin with the reddening of the skin on and near the nose. Over a time frame of six months up to several years, this reddening will continue to worsen and growths may become noticeable, especially near the tip of the nose.

Does Alcoholism Cause Rhinophyma?

For many years, heavy alcohol consumption was blamed as the cause of rhinophyma. This conclusion was not a far stretch as alcohol can have a devastating effect on your vascular system. The consumption of alcohol tends to cause the brain’s regulation of vascular function to fail on some level, which often leads to enlarged vessels in the face and neck. These enlarged vessels will cause the face to flush, or redden.

Recent studies have debunked this assumption after many patients who did not suffer from alcoholism or consume alcohol on a regular basis have been clinically diagnosed with rhinophyma. While the exact cause of rhinophyma is unknown, it is suspected that circulatory issues and vascular irregularities can help to aggravate the condition. Keeping alcohol’s influence on the vascular system in mind, there are certain cases where heavy consumption of alcohol could contribute to the symptoms of rhinophyma.

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Alcohol Abuse: What You Should Know

Alcohol abuse is a term that is commonly tossed around, however, it is harder to identify if an individual is truly at risk for alcohol abuse. It is important to understand what defines alcohol abuse before trying to identify if a loved one is suffering from it.

Alcohol abuse can carry a variety of symptoms, but its diagnosis is generally based upon an individual’s behavior surrounding the consumption of alcohol. While the amount and frequency of consumption can come into play when addressing an individual’s risk for alcohol abuse, identifying risky or unusual behavior and attitude while under the influence of alcohol can be a tell-tale sign.

Individuals who are suffering from alcohol abuse are likely to take unnecessary risks while drinking. These risks can include everything from choosing to drink and drive to participating in unsafe sex or fighting with a partner. Individuals who are ‘hot-headed’ while drinking is often considered to be displaying signs of alcohol abuse.

If a loved one seems to be only hanging out with friends while drinking, or if they have been recently flaky on professional responsibilities such as attending work or school, this can be a sign of alcohol abuse. When talking to a loved one regarding alcohol abuse, it is not unusual for them to be defensive or even lie about their drinking habits. Having an open and nonjudgmental demeanor when confronting a loved one about their behavior surrounding drinking can help them be more open about it.

The Link Between Alcoholism And Rosacea

Rosacea is a skin condition that has many similarities to rhinophyma. Early stages of the condition are characterized by a warm, flushing of the cheeks that feels and looks similar to a sunburn. More aggressive stages of rosacea can include swelling, irritation, and acne-like breakouts that are centered around the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Rare cases of rosacea can also cause swelling of the eyelids so severe that vision may be impacted. This type of rosacea is also called ocular rosacea.

Rosacea is a naturally occurring condition that can affect anyone, including adolescents and darker skinned individuals. The condition can be aggravated by alcohol, and in some cases, alcohol is the sole cause of the symptoms of rosacea. When alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, blood vessels can become enlarged which pumps more blood to the surface of the skin.

When the blood is pushed to the surface, a redness will spread across the cheeks and nose, as well as any other areas that have blood vessels near the top of the skin. Swelling and irritation can also be induced or advanced by the introduction of alcohol into the bloodstream.

It is not uncommon for individuals with no previous history of rosacea to report some similar signs and symptoms of the condition that are brought on by drinking. Sometimes known as the ‘alcohol flush’, this phenomenon often has nothing to do with rosacea, but rather a sensitivity to certain types of alcohol. This is a common reaction for many people after drinking different types of wines. While everyone has varying levels of sensitivity to wine, the alcohol flush is more commonly reported with red wines over white wines.

Get Help With Alcohol Abuse Today

If you suffer from alcohol abuse or alcoholism, or if you believe a loved one is at risk for alcohol abuse, professional help is available. Our addiction treatment specialists can help guide you in making the right decision when it comes to choosing an alcohol treatment program. Give us a call today for more information, and get started on your path to recovery.

American Academy of Dermatology - Rosacea

HealthLine - Rhinophyma

WebMD - The Link Between Rosacea and Alcohol

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