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The Alcoholic Nose Myth

Snout…Schnoz…Honker…Nozzle…Sniffer…whatever name you call it, a prominent nose can be a distinguishing characteristic. Often, unfortunately, a distinctive nose is viewed less than favorably. This is especially true for someone thought of as having an “alcoholic nose.”

What is Alcoholic Nose?

Rhinophyma, the medical term for “alcoholic nose” or “drinker’s nose,” describes a clinically-diagnosed skin condition where a person develops a red, bulbous nose over time. Even with treatment, both the formation on and red color of the nose can increase over time.

Researchers have found that it seems to occur most often in men and women age 50-70 of Caucasian (specifically Irish, English, Scandinavian, Scottish, and similar) descent.

More recent research reinforces the opinion of many experts that alcohol abuse alone should not be seen as a sole cause of this condition. For example, a 2015 analysis of rhinophyma patients at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine revealed many of the participants reportedly drank very little or not at all.

“alcoholic nose" describes a clinically-diagnosed skin condition where a person develops a red, bulbous nose over time

The medical community does not currently have a conclusive answer to the cause of rhinophyma. More and more evidence suggests, however, that it is, in fact, a side effect of advanced rosacea.

So Where Did the “Drinker’s Nose” Stigma Come From?

William Claude Dukenfield–better known as “W.C. Fields”–was a famous comedian, juggler, and hard-drinking entertainer in the 1920’s. He is credited with popularizing the idea of the “alcoholic nose.”

A known abuser of alcohol during prohibition, Fields’ acts used references to alcohol, drinking and being drunk as his main source of comedic material. He regularly referred to the bumps on his famous snout as “gin blossoms.” These and other wisecracks about his bulbous nose effectively embedded the nose/drunk connection in his viewers’ minds.

Thus, the relationship between rhinophyma and alcohol became a classic case of the correlation = causation fallacy.

The truth of the matter was that he did little to treat his rosacea–the real cause of his iconic snout. If anyone would’ve had any idea the long-term rippling effects of his self-deprecating jest, someone should’ve told W.C. Fields to “keep his nose out of it.”

Does This Mean a Bulbous Nose and Alcohol Are Unrelated?

Alcohol is a known catalyst for rosacea flare-ups whether they occur on the nose or elsewhere. A bulbous nose, therefore, should certainly not be cause to assume someone is a “heavy drinker.” Even a minute amount of alcohol can trigger a flare-up for those sensitive to it.

Rosacea flare-ups are caused by more than just alcohol. A wide variety of food and drinks may cause inflammation.

Other triggers that can cause rosacea sufferers unsightly or uncomfortable inflammation include:

  • Hot beverages (e.g. coffee, tea, hot chocolate)
  • Spicy foods (e.g. hot peppers, salsas, sauces)
  • Dairy (e.g. milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Foods containing histamine (e.g. tomatoes, citrus, legumes, chocolate, nuts)
  • As well as foods high in sugar, fat, sodium, and starch

Although rosacea is more common in women than men, its manifestation in the form of a bulbous nose is more common in men.

Help for Alcohol Abuse

While science strongly indicates the idea of an “alcoholic nose” as a diagnosis on par with “old wives tales,” the effects of alcohol abuse and addiction are very real. Many people–with and without a bulbous nose or rosacea–struggle in secret and aren’t sure where to turn.

If you know someone exhibiting signs of alcohol abuse, reach out today to find out how we can help.