Medically Reviewed

Alcoholic Nose: Why Is My Nose Red?

“Alcoholic nose”, a slang term used to describe a swollen, red, bumpy nose, was thought to be caused by drinking too much alcohol. It was believed that this skin condition only affected those with alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition defined by the uncontrollable use of alcohol despite the negative consequences.

What Is Alcoholic Nose?

First, the term “alcoholic” is actually considered to be a stigmatizing, outdated term that’s rarely used in today’s recovery culture and literature.

Second, rhinophyma (the medical term for “alcoholic nose”), is a rare condition that typically affects Caucasian males between the ages of 50 and 70 and is an advanced stage of rosacea.1 It’s characterized by a thickening and reddening of the skin; broken blood vessels; pitting and scarring; and a bulbous or disfigurement of the nose1,2

While the firming and thickening of skin and discoloration are most commonly seen on the nose, these symptoms may appear elsewhere, including the chin, forehead, cheeks, ears, and eyelids.2

Historically, rhinophyma has been mistakenly linked to alcohol consumption, but there has been no substantiated evidence that excessive alcohol use, is in any way related to rhinophyma.2 Instead, this incorrect association has created a stigma for individuals with rhinophyma as well as a host of inconsiderate colloquial terms, including:2

  • Alcoholic nose.
  • Gin blossom.
  • Potato nose.
  • Drinker’s nose.
  • Whiskey nose.

What, if Anything, Is the Difference Between Rhinophyma and Rosacea?

Rosacea, a common skin disease tends to cause redness first on the cheeks and nose but may spread to the forehead, chin, neck, chest, and back.2,4 The symptoms tend to occur in stages and progress. This progression may include:2,5,8

  • Flushing or blushing easily.
  • Persistent redness.
  • Lesions.
  • Pus-filled bumps or pimples.
  • Visible broken blood vessels.
  • A burning or stinging sensation on the skin.
  • Plaques, or raised patches of skin.
  • Edema, or swelling due to the buildup of fluid, typically on the forehead, upper eyelids, nose, and cheeks.
  • Dry, scaly, or rough skin.
  • Oily skin.
  • Thickened skin.

The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but doctors say genetics and environmental factors likely make some individuals more susceptible to the condition.5,6

There’s no cure for rosacea, but there are several ways individuals can prevent flare-ups, including knowing what triggers them. Factors that can make rosacea symptoms worse include:5

  • Drinking alcohol.
  • Eating spicy food, or hot (in temperature) food and drinks.
  • Experiencing stress or anxiety.
  • Using harsh facial cleaners and products.
  • Exposing your skin to extreme weather—hot or cold temperatures or strong winds, for example.
  • Participating in a strenuous activity or exercise.
  • Being in the sun.
  • Taking hot baths.

Rhinophyma is the final and most severe stage of acne rosacea. It manifests as thickening skin on or around the nose.2 If left untreated, rhinophyma can cause medical problems, including respiratory issues that can make it difficult to breathe.6

Signs of Rhinophyma

Because acne rosacea is the precursor to rhinophyma, individuals typically experience some or many the symptoms of rosacea (above) first.8 Signs and symptoms of rhinophyma may include: 8

  • Bumps on the skin, especially around the nose.
  • Thickening of the skin on or around the nose.
  • Broken blood vessels.
  • Enlarged pores.
  • Oily skin.

However, rosacea and rhinophyma affect more than a person’s skin. The long-term skin condition changes a person’s physical appearance; thus, increasing an individual’s risk of developing anxiety and depression as a result. Individuals living with rosacea and rhinophyma report that it impacts their social life, too. Therefore, besides seeing a dermatologist regularly, individuals are urged to visit a mental health professional, or join a support group.5

Rhinophyma Treatment

There is no cure for rhinophyma, but there are several options that health care providers use to address the skin condition and help to improve the individual’s self-confidence and emotional well-being. Each modality offers several different strategies as well. These include:2,3

  • Medications. Doctors may prescribe topical treatments and/or oral antibiotics to help manage rhinophyma.
  • Surgical procedures Doctors remove tissue and recontour the nose, often using multiple methods during surgery.
  • Laser therapies. Radiofrequency and plasma are used to help remove the excess tissue and reshape the nose.

Tips to Prevent Rhinophyma

While there is no direct correlation between rhinophyma and alcohol use, drinking alcohol tends to bring blood to the skin’s surface, and may aggravate the condition. Therefore, the American Academy of Dermatology Association suggests that individuals with rosacea make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent the condition from getting worse or potentially lead to other diseases (though there is not conclusive evidence that rosacea causes other negative health conditions). Dermatologists recommend individuals with rosacea:9

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise most days of the week.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Limit alcohol consumption or abstain completely.
  • Reduce stress.
  • See a doctor regularly to prevent rosacea from getting worse.
  • Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to report any changes.

Sources

  1. Laun, J., Gopman, J., Elston, J. B., & Harrington, M. A. (2015). Rhinophyma. Eplasty, 15, ic25.
  2. Dick, M. K., & Patel, B. C. (2021). Rhinophyma. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
  3. Chauhan, Ruvi, Loewenstein, Scott N., and Hassanein, Aladdin H. (2020). Rhinophyma: Prevalence, Severity, Impact, and Management. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 13, 537-551.
  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rosacea: Overview.
  5. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Rosacea.
  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Rosacea: Who gets and causes.
  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rosacea treatment: Thickening skin.
  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Rosacea: Signs and symptoms.
  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Living with rosacea? How to reduce your risk of other conditions.
Last Updated on Sep 13, 2022
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