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The Link Between Rosacea and Alcohol

Booze Not a Cause but Can Trigger Flare-Ups; Red Wine Tops Problem List
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 18, 2004 -- When a common skin condition's best-known patient is also the poster boy for excessive drinking, you know there's bound to be some unflattering associations. Thank you, W.C. Fields, for helping to pair rosacea and alcohol.

Not only is his reddish and bulbous nose a telltale sign of severe rosacea left untreated, but it has become synonymous with alcohol abuse. And that leaves many of the 14 million Americans with rosacea red-faced for a reason besides their skin condition.

"It's well established that alcohol does not cause rosacea and that this condition is not the result of excessive drinking," says John E. Wolf, MD, chairman of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine. "But the popular perception is that it is. As a result, many rosacea patients suffer embarrassment and stigmatization because other people think their red nose and red face is caused by heavy drinking, even if they don't drink at all."

A Trigger, Not a Cause

Actually, there is evidence that rosacea (pronounced "roh-ZAY-sha") is caused by a genetic and an ethnic predisposition -- it runs in families, typically those of fair-skinned heritage such as Irish, English, Scandinavian, Scottish, and similar descents.

But alcohol is among the scores of different triggers that can prompt or aggravate rosacea flare-ups in some patients. While drinking causes fewer reactions than "the big three" -- sunlight, heat, and environmental stress -- a new survey shows that just one alcoholic drink can trigger problems in two of three patients.

And, according to the survey of 700 patients by the National Rosacea Society, some drinks are worse than others. The percentage of patients reporting a skin reaction after drinking:

  • Red wine, 76%
  • White wine, 56%
  • Beer, 41%
  • Champagne, 33%
  • Vodka, 33%
  • Tequila, 28%
  • Bourbon, gin, and rum, 24%
  • Scotch, 21%

Perhaps the most significant finding: Nearly nine in 10 patients say they now limit their consumption of alcohol because of their rosacea, and 90% of those say it has helped reduce flare-ups.

"It is important that the public does not wrongly and unfairly confuse the appearance of rosacea with heavy drinking," says Diane Thiboutot, MD, of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "At the same time, in managing the disorder, alcohol should be recognized as among the many factors that can trigger or aggravate the condition."

Other triggers include some 20 different foods, including avocado, cheese, and eggplant; drinks such as coffee, tea, and hot cider; skin-care products; and even exercise.

Drinking Can Worsen Symptoms

Rosacea usually begins after age 30 as redness on the cheeks, nose, chin, or forehead that may come and go. Over time, the redness becomes ruddier and more persistent, and visible blood vessels may appear. Left untreated, bumps and pimples often develop, and in severe cases the nose may grow swollen and bumpy from excess tissue, as with Fields.

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