Rhinophyma is the medical term for “ alcoholic nose”, or “drinker’s nose.” This is a skin disorder commonly identified by a red, misshapen, bumpy nose. Due to the symptoms of rhinophyma, people often believed this condition was caused by alcoholism.
What is Rhinophyma?
Rhinophyma is a subtype of severe rosacea. Rosacea causes recurring inflammation of the skin. This chronic but treatable condition causes broken blood vessels on or near the nose, giving the red, bumpy appearance linked with an alcoholic nose.
While rhinophyma can affect anyone, it is more common in men over 30 with fair skin. Those with a family history of rosacea also increases the likelihood of developing rhinophyma (alcoholic nose).
Symptoms of rosacea include:
- Red skin on the face
- Red swollen bumps
- Dry, irritated eyes
- Enlarged pores
- Thickened, coarse skin
Rhinophyma is also one of the most celebrated traits of W.C. Fields, a famous comedian from the early 1900s. Fields used his bulbous, rhinophyma nose as part of his brand. He was also open about his love of alcohol.
Does Alcohol Abuse Cause Rhinophyma?
The exact cause of rhinophyma isn’t known but a doctor can usually make a visual diagnosis. A rhinophyma diagnosis is often a symptom of rosacea. Rosacea is a lifelong but treatable condition that mainly affects the cheeks and other central parts of the face.
Previously, it was believed that excessive alcohol consumption was the source of rhinophyma. Early signs of alcohol abuse are often associated with a persistently red face due to enlarged blood vessels in the face and neck. While drinking alcohol can worsen the appearance of rosacea, the National Rosacea Society advises against labeling alcohol abuse as the cause. A study published by the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in 2015 discredited this theory though. According to their study, rhinophyma has very little relation between how much someone drinks and alcoholism.
There is no cure for rosacea, so people with it will suffer from outbreaks throughout their life. Common triggers include the following:
- Spicy foods
- Temperature changes
- Emotional feelings
- Certain medications
Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means when a person drinks it, their blood vessels open up. More blood flow to the skin causes the red, irritated look common with rhinophyma. Over time, those with uncontrolled rosacea experience thickening skin on the nose giving it that misshapen appearance.
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How Do You Treat Rhinophyma?
Treatment for alcoholic nose typically starts with a trip to the doctor. A physician will look at your medical and family history and possibly do tests to rule out other causes of the problem like eczema or lupus.
A combination of medication and lifestyle changes can help manage the rosacea that leads to rhinophyma. The doctor may provide a topical cream that constricts the blood vessels to reduce redness. Some people benefit from oral antibiotics, as well, or a drug for acne.
The best treatment is prevention. People with rosacea should:
- Wear sunscreen anytime they go out.
- Use care when washing their face. Too much or too rough scrubbing can trigger an outbreak.
- Moisture frequently
- Use a nonsoap cleanser designed for sensitive skin
While rosacea and alcohol abuse have similar symptoms such as a flushed face and bumpy skin, alcoholism is not believed to be the cause. If you are worried about alcohol abuse, our admissions team is available to help you or your loved one.