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What Is Alcoholic Nose Red Appearance? Signs & How To Treat

“Alcoholic nose,” a slang term used to describe a swollen, red, bumpy nose, was thought to be caused by drinking too much alcohol. Continue to read to learn more about the causes and signs of an alcoholic nose.

By We Level Up NJ Treatment Center | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: February 3, 2023

What is Alcoholic Nose? 

Rhinophyma is the medical term for “alcoholic nose.” It is a rare condition that typically affects Caucasian males between 50 and 70 and is an advanced stage of rosacea. It’s characterized by the following:

  • A thickening and reddening of the skin
  • Broken blood vessels
  • Pitting and scarring
  • A bulbous or disfigurement of the nose

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.

Alcohol can damage your nose. Long-term exposure to alcohol can lead to a condition called alcoholic rhinopathy, which can cause corrosion of the nasal tissue, as well as an increase in blood vessels, fluid accumulation, and a red, swollen appearance. It can even contribute to the formation of polyps in the nose.

Signs of Alcoholic Nose

An alcohol nose is a condition caused when alcohol is broken down in the body, producing an unpleasant smell. One sign of an alcohol nose is an unpleasant odor from the nose that smells like alcohol.

Treatment for an alcoholic nose condition includes reducing alcohol consumption, regular exercise, and increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.

While alcoholism doesn’t cause rhinophyma or an alcoholic nose, it certainly can worsen the condition of someone already diagnosed with rosacea. However, an alcoholic nose condition can worsen swelling, blemishes, unpleasant alcohol odor, and redness also termed alcohol nose.

Red Alcohol Nose

An alcoholic nose is characterized by an orange to a reddish hue, often with facial flushing, and an enlarged, engorged nose with prominent blood vessels. In addition to these physical signs, excessive consumption of alcohol can cause increased sensitivity to odors and tastes, runny nose or watering eyes, difficulty concentrating, and an impaired sense of smell.

Origins of Alcohol Nose

The origins of red alcohol nose are not known precisely. Research suggests that alcohol-induced rhinopathy is likely caused by a combination of several factors, such as exposure to alcohol steam when consuming liquor, the direct action of alcohol on the nose tissue, and the effects of alcohol on the immune system. It is important to note that not all individuals who drink alcohol will experience alcoholic rhinopathy, and the severity of symptoms will depend on the quantity and type of alcohol consumed.

Can Alcohol Damage Your Nose?

If you already have rosacea or rhinophyma, drinking can make them worse and affect the nose’s appearance. But alcohol addiction can cause other, more severe problems.

This is a skin disorder called rhinophyma, a side effect of another skin condition called rosacea. For years, it was widely believed that this condition (Rhinophyma) was caused by alcohol use disorder. However, new research released in 2015 proved otherwise.

While alcohol can contribute to rosacea and rhinophyma, but it does not seem to cause the conditions in the first place.

According to the report, rhinophyma (the medical name for the alcoholic nose) has nothing to do with how much or how little a person drinks. [1]

While medical professionals aren’t exactly sure what causes rosacea and rhinophyma, they believe that certain factors may produce the conditions:

  • Genes. People who have relatives with rosacea are more likely to have the condition themselves.
  • Pale skin that blushes easily. Blood vessels that dilate easily may produce blushing and rosacea.
  • Gender and age. Women who are 30-60 years old or are experiencing menopause are more likely to have rosacea. Men aged 50-70 have a greater likelihood of having rhinophyma.
  • Ethnic background. Rhinophyma risks are higher for people of Scandinavian, Scottish, English, or Eastern European descent.

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Alcohol Nose Causes

An alcohol nose may also be caused by conditions other than alcohol consumption, such as a sinus infection or an allergic reaction to certain foods and drinks. Other symptoms include a dry, sore, itchy or burning sensation in the nose, discharge from the nose, and nasal congestion due to mucus. Treatment for these symptoms can include nasal sprays, antihistamines and decongestants. If the condition is severe, a doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics or steroid medications.

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Alcohol Nose and Rhinophyma

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

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

Alcohol Nose and Alcohol Use Disorder Statistics

While there is not a lot of data specifically dealing with alcoholic rhinopathy, some studies have found that consumption of alcohol is strongly correlated with the development of upper respiratory tract infections, including rhinophyma, which is a type of alcoholic rhinopathy. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health report that people who are alcohol-dependent are more likely to suffer from nasal obstruction and a diminished sense of smell or taste.

It’s been a long-held belief that alcohol abuse causes this skin disease like the red nose skin condition called rhinophyma. The phrase alcoholic nose is another example of the stigma and misinformation surrounding alcohol use disorder. Many speculations have been made that alcohol could result in a large red nose for some people, specifically that the presence of such a trait indicates an addiction. However, this is not entirely true. Not all people with an alcoholic nose or rhinophyma have alcoholism, and not all people with alcoholism will develop an alcoholic nose.


85.6%

85.6% of people ages 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetime.

Source: NIAAA

95,000

An estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Source: NIAAA

140,000

Excessive alcohol use was responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States each year from 2015 to 2019, or more than 380 deaths per day.

Source: NIAAA


Alcoholic Nose (Rhinophyma)

Facts

What is Rhinophyma?

Rhinophyma is a skin disorder characterized by a large, red, bumpy, or bulbous nose. It can occur as part of “phymatous rosacea.” The exact cause of rhinophyma is unknown, but it’s considered a subtype of severe rosacea. Rosacea is a common, chronic inflammatory skin condition. It causes irregular redness or flushing of your face, particularly in the cheeks or nasal areas. Small, red bumps filled with pus, called abscesses, may appear on your face as part of this condition. According to the National Rosacea Society (NRS), more than 16 million Americans are affected by rosacea.

Rhinophyma has been classified as part of subtype three rosacea. It forms gradually over several years and is believed to result from poorly treated or untreated rosacea. The outcome is usually a large mass on the lower half of your nose.

Historically, rhinophyma was erroneously linked with alcohol consumption because alcohol and caffeine can cause local vasodilation, worsening symptoms. This alleged association with alcohol has caused much social stigma and loss of self-esteem in patients suffering from the disease, with several nicknames for the condition, such as “whiskey nose” and “rum nose.”

The diagnosis of rhinophyma is clinical and can be identified by the nose’s bulbous shape, skin pitting/scarring, and telangiectasia. [1] The thicker and more sebaceous nasal tip and alae are usually preferentially enlarged, but involvement can spread to the thinner nasal dorsum and sidewalls to a lesser degree.

With progression, the aesthetic subunits of the nose merge and become obliterated. While the underlying frameworks are usually unaffected, patients often suffer from secondary nasal airway obstruction at the external nasal valves.


Symptoms of Rhinophyma

Rhinophyma (alcoholic nose) usually occurs in more severe cases of rosacea. You may see some of the following symptoms in the less severe stages of rosacea or notice other subtypes that include:

  • Random facial flushing
  • Red, blotchy areas in the center of your face
  • Recurrent bumps and pimples, often mistaken for acne
  • Telangiectasia, which is a swelling of tiny blood vessels on your nose and cheeks
  • Susceptible skin
  • Ocular rosacea, which is characterized by a burning or gritty feeling in your eyes, often along with conjunctivitis, characterized by redness and inflammation of your eye, and blepharitis, an inflammation of your eyelid

Symptoms can get worse as your rosacea progresses. More symptoms arise with the onset of rhinophyma. For example, the connective tissue and oil glands on your nose may increase. You also may notice the following changes to your nose:

  • Gradual growth into a swollen, bulbous shape
  • Numerous oil glands
  • Enlarged skin pores
  • Reddish skin tone
  • Thickening of the outer layers of the skin
  • Waxy, rough, yellowish appearance
Alcoholic Nose Images. According to the NCBI, Rhinophyma (Greek “nose growth,” Slang "alcoholic nose") is a benign skin deformity characterized by tumorous growth leading to a large, bulbous, and erythematous appearing nose.
Alcoholic Nose Images. According to the NCBI, Rhinophyma (Greek “nose growth,” Slang “alcoholic nose”) is a benign skin deformity characterized by tumorous growth leading to a large, bulbous, and erythematous appearing nose.

Source of the Alcoholic Nose Pictures: National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544373/bin/Rhinophyma-Composite__final.jpg

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Can Alcoholism Cause a Red Alcoholic Nose?

It was previously thought that excessive alcohol consumption was the cause of rhinophyma – hence the nickname alcoholic nose or drinkers nose. Alcohol use can cause vessels to enlarge in the face and neck, creating redness or flushed skin. Due to this, the idea that alcoholism could cause rhinophyma held up for many years.

However, a study published by the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine in 2015 disproved this theory. Many of the patients that participated in this study were clinically diagnosed with rhinophyma but did not suffer from alcoholism or even drink regularly.

While this study disproved the theory that alcohol use causes Rhinophyma (alcoholic nose), researchers were not able to uncover what did cause rhinophyma in their patients. However, there is evidence to suggest that ethnic and genetic predisposition may cause this disfiguring skin condition as it runs in families of English, Scottish, Scandinavian, or Eastern European descent. Despite these facts, the known cause of rhinophyma remains a mystery today.

The Difference Between Rhinophyma (Alcoholic Nose) and Rosacea

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

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. The exact cause of rosacea is unknown, but doctors say genetics and environmental factors likely make some individuals more susceptible to the condition. The symptoms tend to occur in stages and progress. This progression may include the following:

  • Flushing or blushing easily
  • Persistent redness
  • Lesions
  • Pus-filled bumps or pimples
  • Visibly 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
For those that are dealing with alcoholism, one of the first signs could be flare-ups of rosacea, including rhinophyma (alcoholic nose).
For those dealing with alcoholism, one of the first signs could be rosacea flare-ups, including rhinophyma (alcoholic nose).

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:

  • 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 strenuous activity or exercise
  • Being in the sun
  • Taking hot baths

How Alcohol Affects Rosacea?

Why do alcoholics have a red nose? Although alcohol use does not cause rhinophyma or rosacea, it can aggravate the condition. As many as two out of three patients with rosacea experience flare-ups when they consume alcohol. Alcohol aggravates symptoms of rosacea because drinking enlarges the body’s blood vessels. When the blood vessels are more open, they allow more blood to flow to the skin’s surface, creating a flushed look that is typically referred to as the ‘alcohol flush.’ The redness can spread anywhere on the body but is most noticeable on the face, shoulders, and chest. For those already suffering from redness due to rosacea, alcohol can worsen this symptom.

According to a survey of patients suffering from this skin condition, red wine is more likely to trigger flare-ups or worsen rosacea than other drinks. Doctors theorize it’s because of an additional chemical in red wine that also works to enlarge blood vessels, letting far more blood than usual flow to the skin’s surface.

To manage these symptoms of the red nose alcoholic condition, doctors suggest that patients with this condition:

  • Avoid red wine
  • Don’t cook with alcohol
  • Have a tall glass of water in between every alcoholic drink
  • Drink in extreme moderation
  • Dilute alcohol drinks with seltzer water
  • Stop drinking alcohol

Tips to Prevent Alcoholic Nose

While there is no direct correlation between rhinophyma and alcohol use, drinking alcohol tends to bring blood to the skin’s surface and may exacerbate 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 leading to other diseases (though there is no conclusive evidence that rosacea causes other adverse health conditions). Dermatologists recommend individuals with rosacea:

  • 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
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

What Alcohol Does to Your Face

The occasional drink typically does not present a health issue. However, frequent and excessive drinking can lead to several problems with the skin. Some changes can be benign, such as dry skin or flushing. However, prolonged alcohol use can cause other skin complications, such as liver disease.

For skin conditions related to AUD, liver disease, or excessive alcohol consumption, the best preventive measure is to stop drinking alcohol. To avoid worsening alcohol nose flares-up, seek professional mental health if you can't quit drinking.
For skin conditions related to AUD, liver disease, or excessive alcohol consumption, the best preventive measure is to stop drinking alcohol. To avoid worsening alcohol nose flares-up, seek professional mental health if you can’t quit drinking.

Alcohol can also worsen underlying skin conditions. Some of the long-term effects of heavy drinking on a person’s skin include the following:

  • Increased risk of skin infections: Bacterial and fungal infections are more likely to occur in people who drink alcohol excessively. This is because alcohol weakens the immune system and can decrease the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. People are also more likely to get injured while drinking alcohol, which can lead to skin infections.
  • Increased risk of skin cancer: This is also due to alcohol weakening the immune system, lowering the body’s natural defense against diseases. Some evidence also suggests that drinking alcohol can worsen the effects of ultraviolet light on a person’s skin, causing more damage than usual. [3]

Prolonged alcohol use can cause problems with a person’s liver, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. These conditions can cause multiple changes in the skin, including:

  • Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
  • Darker skin around the eyes
  • Telangiectasia, or visible blood vessels on the face, neck, and chest
  • Itchy skin

Alcoholic Nose Treatment

Rhinophyma can be treated with medicines or surgery. You and your doctor can decide which treatment option would be best for you.

Medication

Typically, once rhinophyma develops, it doesn’t respond well to medications. Medications may successfully treat less severe cases and other subtypes of rosacea. 

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment of rhinophyma. Enlarged blood vessels and tissue overgrowth can cause disfigurement. This can be permanent if the affected area isn’t removed. Surgery is the preferred treatment for most cases. It’s considered the most effective option for long-term success.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

Individuals with an alcoholic nose should make healthy lifestyle changes to prevent the condition from worsening or potentially leading to other diseases. People who may benefit from alcohol treatment programs may be deterred from taking initial steps in seeking treatment. They may be afraid they will feel shamed by other people’s judgments of alcohol abuse.

For some individuals with alcohol addiction, enrolling in a treatment program outside their local community can be more effective. This way, they are not bombarded with social pressures and stigma close to home.
This helps eliminate some triggers and improves their odds of sticking with an alcohol rehab program.

Treatment plans for alcoholism may include detox, inpatient alcohol rehab, 12-step programs, aftercare and relapse prevention planning, and more. If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term alcohol abuse, contact one of our helpful alcohol treatment specialists today. We can provide information on rehab and detox programs that may fit your needs.

If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term alcohol abuse, contact one of our helpful alcohol treatment specialists today. The We Level Up NJ addiction treatment center can provide information on rehab and detox programs that may fit your needs.

When it comes to alcohol and red nose (alcoholic nose), you don’t have to deal with them alone. With the help of a support system, you can get through this. The good news is that red alcohol nose symptoms can diminish with sobriety.
When it comes to alcohol and red nose (alcoholic nose), you don’t have to deal with them alone. With the help of a support system, you can get through this. The good news is that red alcohol nose symptoms can diminish with sobriety.

Top 10 Alcoholic Nose Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why do alcoholics have red noses?

    Redness of the skin is closely associated with alcohol use, so it makes sense that rhinophyma came to be linked with alcohol use disorder. It is true that drinking alcohol can cause the cheeks and face of some people to become red or flushed. 

  2. What is the “purple nose alcohol” condition?

    Skin redness results from the visible blood under the skin’s surface caused by ruptured blood vessels. In more severe instances, the cheeks and nose may have a purple color and begin to deform as they get more bulbous.

  3. Why does my nose bleed when I drink alcohol?

    Alcohol and hot liquids can dilate blood vessels in your nose. Don’t take ibuprofen, naproxen, or medicines that contain aspirin while drinking. These thin the blood and may cause your nose to bleed.

  4. Why does my nose get stuffy when I drink alcohol?

    Alcohol intolerance can cause immediate, uncomfortable reactions after you drink alcohol. The most common signs and symptoms are stuffy nose and skin flushing. Alcohol intolerance is caused by a genetic condition in which the body can’t break down alcohol efficiently.

  5. Does alcohol make your nose bigger?

    Yes. Alcohol use can worsen a red nose, also known as rhinophyma, but doesn’t cause it to occur.

  6. Why do alcoholics have a purple nose?

    “Purple nose alcoholism” occurs when blood vessels burst, it makes the blood visible under the surface of the skin, leading to skin redness. In more severe cases, the nose and cheeks can take on a purple hue and start to become severely disfigured as they become more bulbous.

  7. What does a drinkers nose look like?

    “Alcoholic nose,” or drinker’s nose, is a skin condition commonly identified by a red, bumpy, or swollen appearance of the nose and cheeks.

  8. Why do alcoholics get red noses?

    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.

  9. Can you reverse rhinophyma or “alcoholic nose”?

    Yes. However, once the disease progresses to its hypertrophic and bulbous stage only surgical intervention can reverse the deformity.

  10. Is “alcoholic nose” really from drinking?

    No. It is only a slang term. “Drinker’s nose” is a term used to describe rhinophyma, a skin disorder that affects the nose. It happens even to those who do not drink alcohol.

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