What Is Alcoholic Nose or Rhinophyma—Is That More Than a Myth?

what causes rhinophyma or alcoholic nose

You might be familiar with a pervasive stereotype of alcoholics having a red face or a plump, bulbous kind of nose. In many TV shows or movies that are done with a more cartoon or whimsical style, some drunk characters are often portrayed as jolly and perhaps a little loud or accompanied by over-gesticulating and being a tad overbearing.

Nevertheless, the idea of red-faced characters that you might expect to find in a Disney® movie’s tavern have also crossed over in a way to the real world. Now, some individuals who suffer from the so-called “alcoholic nose,” or rhinophyma, as it is medically known, may experience some stigma that prevents them from seeking necessary medical treatment. 

The physical impact of rhinophyma can be a point of self-consciousness for many individuals. After all, nobody really wants to stand out for something like a skin condition they can’t control. One way to help people seek the treatment they need and help them live out healthier and better futures is to provide people with the whole story and clear information.

Today, we’ll guide you through the commonly asked questions and concerns about rhinophyma. Right now you need to know that there are treatments and options available to you or your loved one for this condition! 

So, What Exactly Is Alcoholic Nose? 

The condition known colloquially as “alcoholic nose” or “drinker’s nose” is also known as rhinophyma. Rhinophyma is characterized by redness on and around the nose as well as an enlarged or lumpy appearance of the nose. 

Rhinophyma is a particular skin condition. Usually, rhinophyma involves reddening of the nose and a noticeably bulbous nose, which means that the nose becomes enlarged, more pronounced, and rounder. 

Sometimes, rhinophyma cases can become more severe. Case severity will depend on the individual and certain variables that exist in one’s life that have the potential to aggravate rhinophyma. Severe cases of rhinophyma can see an individual develop an extremely bulbous nose, so much that it appears to be quite disfigured. 

Extreme disfigurement of the nose can narrow the airways in the nose, making it difficult to breathe. The nose may also take on a purple-like hue in these severe rhinophyma cases. 

There are many common misconceptions when it comes to rhinophyma. Of course, there are many snap judgments that people make when they see the physical effects of rhinophyma in person, especially in extreme cases. 

One of the most common misconceptions with rhinophyma is that alcoholism is a cause of rhinophyma, spurring the popular use of the names “alcoholic nose” and “drinker’s nose.” In the past—and even now—the bulbous nose has been thought to be a byproduct of alcoholism. 

Now, more studies have shown that alcoholism is not necessarily the cause of rhinophyma. People can experience rhinophyma without being alcoholics or even drinking much alcohol. This stereotype can put some of those who experience rhinophyma in an embarrassing spot. 

Those who struggle with rhinophyma might feel awkward seeking medical treatment and worry about others incorrectly labeling them as alcoholics or assuming they have a drinking problem. 

Rhinophyma is an entirely unique condition that is separate from alcoholism. It has its own causes and side effects.

What Is Rosacea and How Is it Related To Rhinophyma?

Rosacea is a skin condition that affects plenty of people each year. When a person has rosacea, their skin—especially on the face— will appear red and create visible blood vessels in the face. 

This often looks like some exaggerated patches of red on the face with thin spidery lines along the cheeks and other parts of the face, which are the visible blood vessels. Some people can also experience small scatterings of red bumps that can be filled with pus and the skin could feel warm or mildly irritated. 

The eyes can also be affected by a specific type of rosacea known as ocular rosacea. Ocular rosacea can make the eyelids dry, swollen, red, and irritated. In some cases, people may experience ocular rosacea before symptoms on the skin begin.

According to the Mayo Clinic, rosacea symptoms often come in episodes. The symptoms will flare up for a few weeks or months and then slowly die down. The symptoms might be very mild for an amount of time and then the cycle is repeated again.

Rosacea can affect anybody but it most often affects middle-aged women with lighter skin tones. 

Besides the side effects of redness, visible blood vessels, and irritated eyelids, did you know that rhinophyma can also be a side effect of rosacea? 

Rhinophyma as a Side Effect of Rosacea

Contrary to the stereotype that rhinophyma is caused by alcohol or alcoholism, rosacea is actually the cause of rhinophyma. 

The Mayo Clinic reports that over a long period of time, rosacea can thicken the skin of the nose. This thickening of the nose causes it to become more bulbous, which is the condition you now know as rhinophyma. Although rosacea itself is more common in women than men, the specific side effect of rhinophyma happens more often in men than women.

So, rosacea, not alcoholism, is the root cause of rhinophyma. Now, does this mean that alcohol is completely unrelated to rhinophyma? Not exactly.

Rosacea is a condition that can be aggravated or made worse through factors such as environment, food, and emotions. There are numerous variables that can make a rosacea flare-up worse:

  • Spicy food
  • Hot drinks
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Sunlight 
  • Wind
  • Certain skincare or makeup products
  • Exercise
  • Hot/humid/cold weather
  • Increased anxiety or stress levels
  • Some blood pressure medications

As you can see from that list, alcohol is a factor that can trigger a rosacea flare-up. In this way, alcohol does have some connection to rhinophyma, although alcohol alone is not the root cause of rhinophyma. Instead, if an individual has rosacea and drinks often, they might trigger more rosacea flare-ups, which can lead to increased thickening of the skin on their nose.

However, it’s always important to keep in mind that rhinophyma ultimately manifests itself as a side effect of rosacea. People can experience rhinophyma without drinking alcohol or very occasionally drinking it. 

Treatment for Rosacea

There is not necessarily a cure for rosacea. However, there are several treatments that you can try to control symptoms and reduce visible redness. If you are curious about the options that are available to you, you should consult your primary care physician and see what kinds of treatments they recommend. 

Typically, there are three main ways for treatment to take place:

  • Oral antibioticsOral antibiotics will be prescribed based on the severity of your rosacea. There are various levels of severity and some rosacea cases may require stronger medications to manage than others. For moderate to severe rosacea, oral antibiotics can help clear or control the red bumps on the skin.
  • Oral acne prescriptionOral acne prescriptions tend to be reserved for stubborn cases of acne that fail to respond to other kinds of treatments. You might have heard of a strong medication called Accutane® (isotretinoin). For some individuals, rosacea may cause some lesions on the skin that can be cleared through isotretinoin. Strong acne medications like isotretinoin do have some serious side effects to be aware of, such as birth defects. Consult with your doctor before starting medication for your rosacea!
  • Topical prescriptionTopical prescriptions are creams or gels that are applied to your skin. Topical prescriptions can help reduce redness by constricting the blood vessels. However, this is not a permanent fix for redness. The topical cream will need to be reapplied since the effect only lasts for a short period of time. 

Treatment for Rhinophyma

When rhinophyma is severe enough, an individual can have trouble breathing. This occurs when the skin of the nose has become bulbous enough to constrict the natural airways of the nose. When your nose is not bulbous or suffering from any significant disfigurement, you can usually breathe like normal through your nose. 

However, rhinophyma can make normal breathing through the nose a challenge. Obviously, this can decrease a person’s quality of life and be a hindrance to daily life and chores. Aside from physical repercussions, those who deal with rhinophyma can also face prejudice for their physical appearance. 

Feeling so self-conscious about the appearance of a nose with rhinophyma can become a great source of anxiety for some people. 

There are usually two avenues for the treatment of rhinophyma:

  • Medication
  • Surgery

Medication is not always enough to control rhinophyma once it has developed. Many times, it can be stubborn and require something stronger, in this case surgery. However, if a case of rhinophyma is less severe, some of the treatments we discussed for rosacea may be used. 

If rhinophyma continues to not respond to medication treatment, surgery will be needed. In surgery, the nose can be reshaped and certain layers of excess skin can be removed that obstruct airways. Surgery for rhinophyma is quite common and is seen as one of the better avenues for improving a patient’s quality of life.  

Signs of Alcoholic Addiction and Misuse

In the end, we have discovered that an alcohol use disorder is not necessarily responsible for rhinophyma. Similarly, this removes the stereotype that everyone who suffers from rhinophyma is an alcoholic. 

However, alcohol can certainly aggravate rosacea. If you have rosacea and struggle with alcohol use, you might be putting yourself at risk of experiencing more severe side effects of rosacea. 

Knowing how to identify your alcohol misuse is the first step to getting treatment. Signs of an alcohol use disorder can include

  • Spending a lot of time drinking
  • Noticing that drinking takes up much of your life
  • Cutting back on social life or other interests to spend time drinking
  • Experiencing cravings to drink
  • Trying to cut back on drinking but failing
  • Drinking more than you intended

Finding Treatment and Healing From Alcoholism

At Pathways Recovery, we offer the finest holistic treatment program for men in Northern California. We understand that alcoholism and alcohol detox is challenging, but it is possible to overcome. At our facility, you will not only be treated for alcohol addiction and its symptoms, but you will be treated as an individual person. We take pride in our program designed for physical and mental well-being. Here, we make lifestyle changes to improve your overall life and future. Contact us today for more information about starting your alcohol detox at 916-735-8377.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a red face a sign of alcoholism?

Some people will experience a flushed or red face when they drink alcohol. A red face alone does not necessarily signify that someone is an alcoholic. Some races, such as Asians, lack certain enzymes to process alcohol, leading them to have a flushed face upon consuming alcohol.

However, not everybody will experience a red face when drinking, and not everybody that does is an alcoholic. 

What causes drinker’s noses?

So-called “drinker’s nose” is a common way to describe what is known as rhinophyma. Rhinophyma is an extreme side effect of rosacea. Rosacea is a skin condition that is characterized by red cheeks or red patches on the face along with visible blood vessels. 

Alcohol does not cause rhinophyma, but it can aggravate a rosacea flare-up. Rosacea flare-ups could contribute to continued growth of a bulbous nose.

What is a drinker’s nose?

A “drinker’s nose” is actually a condition called rhinophyma, a side effect of rosacea. Usually, rhinophyma involves reddening of the nose and a noticeably bulbous nose, which means that the nose becomes enlarged, more pronounced, and rounder. 

In extreme cases, the nose can become quite disfigured and make breathing difficult. 

Can alcohol damage your nose?

There is a misconception that being an alcoholic will cause you to form a bulbous and red nose. That nose, sometimes called “drinker’s nose” or “alcohol nose” is actually known as rhinophyma, a side effect of rosacea. 

Alcohol can aggravate rosacea flare-ups, thus potentially making rhinophyma more severe.