What to Know About Rhinophyma

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on July 23, 2023
4 min read

Rhinophyma is a skin disorder affecting your nose. It causes your nose to grow larger and appear red, bumpy, and rounded.‌

Medical professionals believe that rhinophyma results from severe rosacea that goes untreated. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that inflames your skin so that it looks swollen and red across your nose and cheeks.‌‌

You may have heard that rhinophyma is caused by heavy alcohol intake, but that's a myth. Rhinophyma affects both drinkers and non-drinkers equally. When left untreated, rhinophyma leaves your nose disfigured to the point that it restricts your ability to breathe.‌

Rhinophyma is a rare disorder, and the exact cause is largely unknown. However, there are factors that put you at a greater risk for developing the skin condition, including:

  • Being male
  • Being between the ages of 50 and 70
  • Having fair skin
  • Having heritage that is Irish, English, Scottish, Scandinavian, or Eastern European ‌
  • Having a family history of the skin condition
  • Having a rosacea diagnosis

Because rhinophyma often develops following a severe case of rosacea, it’s important to watch out for symptoms of this unique skin condition. Early treatment is important in preventing long-term damage that requires surgery.‌

Symptoms of rhinophyma may occur in cycles that gradually get worse over time, including:

  • Your nose appearing swollen without any improvement
  • Visible oil glands on your nose 
  • Enlarged pores on your skin
  • Skin turning a reddish color
  • Skin growing thicker‌
  • The surface appearing waxy, rough, and even yellowish in color‌

First, your doctor completes a physical exam to look for signs of rhinophyma. If they suspect this skin condition, further testing is necessary for an exact diagnosis. Your doctor may take a small sample of the skin cells on your nose to send to a lab for biopsy. This is especially important if your doctor tries treatment options and your condition doesn’t improve.‌

‌Before trying surgery, your doctor may try an oral acne medication called isotretinoin. It is a retinoid that is usually prescribed for patients with acne. While it won’t cure rhinophyma, the medication may help to reduce redness and slow or reverse the growth of sebaceous glands that cause enlarged pores and bumpy skin texture.‌

The most common treatment for rhinophyma is surgery. Depending on the severity of your condition, a plastic surgeon can improve both the outer appearance and functionality of your nose by:

  • Reshaping any disfigurement of your nose
  • Removing any overgrown tissue‌
  • Minimizing blood vessels that are oversized‌‌

Surgery techniques to achieve your desired results include:

  • Laser resurfacing to improve the shape of your nose
  • Dermabrasion using a small device that spins to scrapes off the top layers of your skin 
  • Using a small knife to shave off bulky tissue and allowing the underlying area to heal
  • Grafting skin from other parts of your body‌
  • Reconstructing the inside of your nose‌

‌Keep in mind that repairing damage from rhinophyma may not be a one-time surgery. Your doctor may need to go back and complete additional reconstruction at a later date if the damage from your condition is severe.‌

While rhinophyma is rare, rosacea is a common skin condition. If you have rosacea, the blood vessels in your face begin to show, causing redness and swelling. In some cases, the condition causes bumps that fill with pus.‌

Rosacea often happens in flare-ups that can last weeks or months before your skin calms down and the symptoms disappear. Rosacea is frequently misdiagnosed as acne or other similar skin conditions. It can affect anyone but is most common among middle-aged women with lighter complexions.

Poor skin hygiene doesn’t cause rosacea, although it may contribute to the condition worsening. The cause is largely unknown but believed to be both hereditary and environmental. Factors that lead to flare-ups of rosacea include:

  • Hot drinks
  • Spicy food
  • Alcoholic drinks, especially red wine
  • Very hot or cold weather
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Severe wind
  • Stress and other strong emotions
  • Exercising
  • Using medications that cause your blood vessels to dilate, including blood pressure medicine‌
  • Cosmetic products

While you may not be able to completely prevent rhinophyma, you can take steps to protect your skin from damaging elements. You should use sunscreen on your face every day that is at least 30 SPF. This protects you from sun damage that can add up over time, even if you don’t experience sunburn from daily sun exposure.‌

Use gentle skincare products to wash and moisturize your face. Trade out more abrasive soap bars or face cleaners for natural alternatives. Avoid perfumes and added chemicals that may lead to skin irritation. Moisturizer is especially important if your skin tends to be dry or sensitive.‌