Alcoholic Nose (Rhinophyma): The Real Cause, and How to Treat It

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Long-term, heavy consumption of alcohol affects nearly every part of the body, including your physical appearance. One physical side effect commonly associated with drinking is “alcoholic nose,” or bulbous nose. This skin condition, technically known as rhinophyma, occurs when the nose is large, red, and bumpy in appearance.

Rhinophyma may cause the nose to appear misshapen or bulbous, or to grow in odd directions. The tip of the nose sometimes turns a deep red. It’s often accompanied by red cheeks as well. But is the condition really caused by alcohol? And can cutting back on drinking help solve the problem?

Why Do Alcoholics Get Red Noses?

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Alcohol affects your face and skin in general by enlarging both pores and blood vessels. Blood vessels expand and sometimes break, making some heavy drinkers look red and flushed even when sober. Excessive consumption of alcohol may also lead to the development of spider veins on the face.

However, recent research has suggested that while alcohol worsens the symptoms of rhinophyma, it is not the primary cause. Rhinophyma is a subtype of the inflammatory skin disease rosacea. Some people who do not have rosacea may also develop rhinophyma, and the exact cause is unknown.

Other risk factors for rhinophyma include:

  • A family history of rosacea/rhinophyma
  • Being male
  • Being middle-aged
  • Having fair skin

The condition is most common in men between the ages of 50 and 70. Because alcohol dilates blood vessels and damages the vascular system, it can aggravate rhinophyma and other types of rosacea.

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The Link Between Alcohol and Rosacea

Alcohol is a well-known trigger for rosacea. Even a single alcoholic drink can cause flare-ups for many people with this condition. A survey by the National Rosacea Society found that red wine was the most common culprit, followed by white wine and beer.

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology noted that alcohol consumption increases the risk of rosacea in women. Similar research is needed on the link between alcohol consumption and rosacea in men.

So, alcohol may not be the primary cause of “alcoholic nose.” However, it does cause red, inflamed skin and can trigger rosacea and rhinophyma. It may also contribute to some cases of rosacea.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Red Nose

The symptoms of rhinophyma include:

  • Red/purplish discoloration
  • Enlarged pores
  • Lumps on the nose (resulting from the growth of extra connective tissue)
  • Thickened skin
  • Pitting or scarring
  • Oily or dry skin

For people who have both rhinophyma and severe rosacea, other symptoms may include:

  • Facial flushing
  • Sensitive skin
  • Red patches
  • Pimple-like bumps
  • Visible blood vessels, known as telangiectasia

As alcohol can also cause many of these symptoms (including discoloration, enlarged pores, flushing, and visible blood vessels), it’s no surprise that rhinophyma is often associated with alcoholism. It’s also not surprising that frequent consumption of alcohol tends to exacerbate rhinophyma symptoms.

Does Alcoholic Red Nose Go Away?

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There is no cure for rhinophyma, and it typically does not go away without surgery. Even after surgery, symptoms may eventually return.

If caught in the early stages, however, symptoms can often be managed with medication and lifestyle changes.

Alcoholic Nose Treatment

In less severe cases, medication may be effective in treating rhinophyma. Topical and oral antibiotics reduce inflammation and redness, and other topical medications minimize inflammation. Some people also take oral capsules that stop skin glands from producing oil.

The most common and effective treatment for rhinophyma is surgery. Surgical treatment can remove tissue overgrowth, reshape disfigured noses, and minimize the appearance of enlarged blood vessels. It may be completed with a scalpel, laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, or via cryosurgery.

Individuals with rhinophyma and other forms of rosacea are encouraged to make lifestyle changes to manage their condition. A healthy skincare routine is important, along with avoiding triggers such as:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sunlight
  • Very hot or cold temperatures
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol

Of course, avoiding alcohol isn’t always easy—especially for long-term drinkers. Ria Health offers a proven at-home treatment to help you limit or stop your consumption of alcohol. You set your own personal goal, and we help you achieve it with coaching, medication, and other tools and resources. While drinking may not cause “alcoholic nose,” getting help to quit drinking can make the condition much easier to manage.

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Written By:
Ashley Cullins
Ashley Cullins is a writer with a passion for creating engaging, understandable content on complex topics like addiction and mental health. She has over five years of experience writing for healthcare websites and publications. Having experienced addiction first-hand in her family, Ashley deeply connects with Ria Health’s mission to make treatment easier and more accessible. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her daughter, reading, and cooking.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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