It is unclear whether or not eating boogers has any benefits. However, there is some evidence to suggest that this habit could expose the body to germs. Excessive nose picking can also damage the nasal passages.
In a study from 1995, 91% of people admitted to picking their nose. However, it is not clear how many people eat their boogers. The medical term for this habit is mucophagy.
This article looks at the benefits and potential risks associated with eating boogers. It also explains why children sometimes adopt this habit and what steps a person can take to stop or reduce excessive nose picking.
There is not a lot of research to suggest that there are benefits to eating boogers.
However, one study suggests that the salivary mucins present in boogers helps form a protective barrier on the teeth. This barrier may reduce dental cavities.
Scientists need to carry out more research into eating boogers to determine whether or not there are any health benefits.
There is more reliable research on the risks of eating boogers.
Mucus in the nose acts as a filter system for viruses and bacteria trying to invade the body. As a result, each booger may contain a host of harmful microorganisms.
The following sections outline some other potential risks associated with eating boogers.
People who pick their nose have higher levels of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus in their nose. S. aureus does not always cause harm, but if a person scratches or cuts their nose by accident, it can potentially cause infection.
People sometimes call infections caused by staphylococcus bacteria “staph infections” for short. The symptoms of a staph infection include:
Sometimes, a staph infection will clear up by itself. If not, a doctor may recommend oral antibiotics or topical antimicrobial treatments. If a person has boils, a doctor will drain them under local anesthetic.
The mucous membrane that lines the nose contains many blood vessels. Excessive nose picking can cause damage to the lining, and this may cause nosebleeds, or epistaxis.
Pregnant women should be particularly careful with nose picking, as pregnancy hormones can increase blood flow and relax the muscle tissues in the nose, causing more frequent nosebleeds.
Excessive nose picking can cause lesions in the nasal passage. Symptoms of nasal lesions include:
- nasal obstruction
- nasal discharge
- facial swelling
Treatment may consist of applying petroleum jelly, using a saline spray to keep the nasal passages from drying out, or using topical pain relief creams.
It is not unusual to see young children picking their nose. This might be because they may not know an alternative way to clear their nose yet, such as blowing into a tissue.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, curiosity and boredom are two major contributing factors to nose picking in children.
Picking their nose, eating the boogers, and not washing their hands afterward could mean that children are spreading viruses and bacteria. Studies suggest that cold viruses, such as rhinovirus, are more prevalent in homes with children.
Keeping a child’s hands busy and distracting them from nose picking is usually the best way to reduce this habit. Encouraging a child to wash their hands frequently, such as before playing and eating, will help reduce the spread of infection.
Children who pick their nose to the point of bleeding, or who do it when they are feeling anxious, should see a doctor. A doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce the habit or refer the child to a mental healthcare provider.
Although they may not openly admit it, adults also pick their nose. However, it is not clear how many of them eat the boogers.
Nose picking may simply be a habit that an adult does without thinking, or they may use it as a way to clear the nasal passages.
That said, excessive nose picking can sometimes indicate a disorder.
Rarely, nose picking becomes more than a habit. Some people may pick their nose compulsively and repeatedly. This is called rhinotillexomania, and it can cause serious damage to the nose.
One case study suggests that chronic rhinotillexomania can lead to inflammation and swelling of the nasal tissues. Another case study reports a rare case of a person causing erosion to the orbital wall.
Rhinotillexomania is often accompanied by stress, anxiety, and other compulsive habits, such as skin picking or nail biting.
Untreated OCD can sometimes contribute to compulsive habits. Treatment for OCD can include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- a combination of SSRIs and CBT
A person should see a healthcare provider if their nose picking causes:
- breathing problems
- inflammation or infection
Therapy, medication, or both may help a person reduce or stop the behavior.
The following tips may help a person reduce how often they pick their nose and eat their boogers.
Address underlying conditions
Try a saline spray or rinse
Saline spray can help relieve dry nasal passages, which can reduce boogers and the compulsion to pick them. Using a humidifier can also help increase moisture in the air.
Using a saline rinse to clean the nasal passages can help remove pollen or allergens that may irritate the nose, thereby reducing mucus and boogers.
Use a memory device
Adding an adhesive bandage to the dominant nose-picking finger will make the activity awkward and may help break the habit.
Keep the hands busy
If a person finds that their hands tend to travel to the nose when not in use, a stress ball, handheld game, or crafting project may help occupy and engage the fingers and hands.
Reduce anxiety and stress
Using relaxation techniques may help provide an alternative form of stress relief. Techniques include:
If none of these techniques help, a person should ask their doctor for advice — especially if their nose picking is causing nosebleeds or infections.
Talking to a mental healthcare provider may also help address any anxiety or stress that is prompting the nose picking.
Some experts believe that there may be potential health benefits to eating boogers, but more research is needed to back this theory up. There is more evidence to suggest that eating boogers may pose potential risks to a person’s health.
This is especially the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boogers often contain bacteria and viruses, and although nose picking is a common habit that does not usually cause health problems, eating boogers could expose the body to germs. Also, excessive nose picking can cause bleeding and inflammation in the nose.
In rare cases, nose picking can become a compulsive habit that a person finds difficult to stop. People who pick their nose excessively should speak with their doctor.