Nose picking is an unusual practice, in that most people do it but many condemn it.
In fact, in an older study from 1995, 91% of the participants reported that they picked their nose, and 75% said “almost everyone does it.”
However, not everyone picks their nose for the same reasons. Although some people pick their nose to remove irritating boogers, others may pick their nose out of habit or compulsion.
This article outlines the various causes of nose picking and its associated risks. It also provides tips that could help adults and children stop picking their nose.
People pick their nose for a variety of reasons. The sections below will outline some of these potential reasons.
One of the most common reasons that people pick their nose is to remove boogers. The term booger describes the dried nasal mucus that collects around pollen, dust, and other debris inside the nostrils.
Boogers can block the nasal passages, and this may feel uncomfortable or irritating. It may also affect a person’s breathing. As a result, people may use their fingers to pick out the boogers and clear the nasal passages.
Structural irregularities within the nose can cause problems that increase the likelihood of nose picking.
The septum is a line of bone, cartilage, and mucous membrane that divides the nose into two nasal passageways. These two passageways are typically the same size.
However, some people have a deviated septum. This means that their septum does not run down the center of their nose. This condition may be present from birth or occur as a result of injury to the nose.
A deviated septum may lead to various issues, such as:
- increased nose picking
- breathing difficulties
- sinus problems
For some people, nose picking is a nervous habit. For others, it becomes a compulsive behavior.
The medical term for compulsive nose picking is rhinotillexomania. It is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB). The term BFRB refers to a group of obsessive self-grooming behaviors that can cause unintentional damage to the person’s body.
Other types of BFRB include:
People who are prone to BFRBs are more likely to perform these behaviors when they are feeling stressed or anxious.
Although nose picking is generally harmless, there are some risks involved. The primary problems associated with nose picking are:
- introducing viruses, bacteria, and other contaminants into the nose
- spreading bacteria and viruses from the nose onto surfaces in the environment
- damaging the tissues and structures inside the nose
- triggering nosebleeds
For a person to stop picking their nose, they may first need to identify the cause of their picking habits.
Below are some tips that may help a person stop picking their nose.
Increasing moisture in the nasal passages
Dry nasal passages can lead to more boogers and an increased urge to pick the nose. Therefore, keeping the nasal passages moist can help prevent nose picking.
A person can keep their nasal passages moist by:
- drinking plenty of fluids
- using a saline nasal spray to lubricate the nasal passages
- applying a small amount of coconut oil to the insides of the nostrils
- flushing the nasal passages with clean, warm water, using either a bulb syringe or a neti pot
- using an indoor humidifier to add moisture to the air
Treating nasal conditions
Conditions such as allergies and URIs can increase nasal mucus and boogers. Treating these conditions will help reduce any urges to pick the nose.
Some potential treatment options for allergies include:
- oral antihistamine medications, such as loratadine or cetirizine hydrochloride
- steroid nasal sprays
- decongestants, such as oxymetazoline or phenylephrine
Some home remedies that may help alleviate nasal symptoms of a URI include:
- drinking plenty of water to loosen the mucus
- increasing indoor humidity
- applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the insides of the nostrils
Treating compulsive nose picking
The following treatment approaches may be helpful for people whose nose picking is a nervous or compulsive habit:
- mindfulness meditation, which can help reduce the stress and anxiety that can promote compulsive behaviors
- habit reversal training, which helps people become aware of and interrupt their habitual behaviors
- cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people identify negative thinking and behavior patterns and develop more adaptive responses
Like adults, children may pick their nose to remove uncomfortable or irritating boogers. They may also pick their nose out of boredom or as a way of exploring their bodies.
Young children also may not have internalized society’s disapproval of nose picking.
It is not necessary to make a child feel ashamed or bad about themselves for picking their nose. However, the following tips can help discourage a child from nose picking:
- Provide gentle yet firm reminders that it is not OK for a person to pick their nose in public.
- Encourage children to blow their nose into a tissue, instead of picking the nose.
- Tell children to wash their hands after seeing them pick their nose.
- Use methods to keep the child’s nasal passages moist.
Nose picking is a common practice that has many potential causes. In most cases, people pick their nose to remove uncomfortable or irritating boogers. In some cases, however, nose picking may be a compulsive behavior.
Nose picking is associated with health risks such as spreading bacteria and viruses. It can also trigger nosebleeds and may cause damage to the delicate tissues inside the nose.
For a person to stop picking their nose, they may first need to identify the cause of their picking. If they pick their nose to remove boogers, they should take steps to prevent the boogers from forming.
People who pick their nose compulsively may wish to try therapy to help them manage the behavior.