A 1995 study reported that ninety-one percent of people surveyed admitted to picking their nose. I imagine things haven’t changed much over the years. Some pick to remove boogers, while others simply pick out of habit or compulsion. Whatever the reason, it seems like most Americans are doing a little housecleaning now and again. However, research now finds that this somewhat mindless, and hopefully private, habit, may be potentially dangerous for your health.
What’s the purpose of snot?
Everything has its purpose — even snot. Your nose is an organ that naturally produces nasal mucus via the mucous membrane. In fact, your nose makes about a quart of snot daily. Its job is to keep the lining of your nose moist and warm the air you breathe. Nasal mucus also protects your lungs from things like dirt particles, dust, germs, and pollen. If these irritants found their way into your lungs, breathing could become strained, and an infection might incur. So, what exactly are boogers made of? When that mucus in your nose traps dirt from the air you breathe, boogers develop. But poking around in there isn’t the solution. Not only can you make your nose bleed, but you can also make yourself sick. Those gross boogers contain plenty of germs, after all!
When nose-picking turns into a potentially dangerous habit
Picking your nose does have some benefits, such as cleaning the nasal cavity and soothing your breathing process. However, there is a side to this habit or compulsion that may be potentially dangerous for your health.
You could pick up a virus — You may not always be aware of how clean your fingers are. If you have bacteria, fungus, or even a virus on your fingers or in your nails and you pick your nose, then pathogens have found access to your body. COVID-19 still poses a great threat in the U.S., and if you pick your nose after touching surfaces, you could be unintentionally contaminating your hands, face, and nose with coronavirus.
Your nose becomes a breeding ground for germs — Picking your nose regularly creates a breeding ground for germs. Additionally, if you pick and don’t wash your hands afterward, you risk spreading germs to other, more vulnerable people like infants, the elderly and unborn fetuses.
Triggers nose bleeding — Rooting around in your nose can irritate delicate tissue and blood vessels. If you do it often enough, you’ll inevitably get nose bleeds. And, it doesn’t take a lot to make your nose bleed pretty significantly. If you’re a little rough or have long fingernails, you can scratch that lining and cause scabbing, according to research, which further allows bacteria from the nasal skin to collect there. In addition, when a scab forms, it’s tempting to pick the scab, introducing more bacteria into your nose — thus creating a cycle.
Your picking has turned into compulsion — When nose-picking turns into a compulsion, you may have developed rhinotillexomania. This medical condition, according to Medical News Today, belongs to a group of obsessive self-grooming behaviors (BFRB) that can cause unintentional harm to your body. Other types of BFRB include, skin picking, hair pulling, and nail-biting. People with this behavior are more likely to pick when feeling anxious or stressed. If you’re a compulsive picker, you may want to seek therapy to manage your behavior.
How to stop picking
First, ask yourself, are you picking out of habit, necessity, or compulsion? For instance, if your nasal passages are continuously dry, you may need to create a more moist environment. To keep your nose moist:
- Drink more water.
- Rub a little coconut oil on the inside of your nostrils.
- Use a saline solution (nasal spray) to lubricate your nasal passages.
- Add moisture to the air in your home with an indoor humidifier.
- Use a neti pot to flush your nasal passages with warm water.
How to stop compulsive picking behavior
Compulsive picking is a little more complicated and may require some lifestyle techniques to reduce stress and habitual behaviors, like mindfulness meditation, which can help reduce stress and anxiety. You may also want to seek out a mental health counselor for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you become aware of your negative thinking patterns. Through CBT, you’ll learn to assess challenging situations more clearly and, therefore, respond to them more effectively.
Use a tissue — not your finger
Most agree, social picking is pretty gross. But now you have another reason to give up that nasty habit — it’s unhygienic and potentially dangerous for your health. But everyone gets boogers. It’s a sign that your nose is in working order. If you have to pick to rid yourself of boogers, your best bet is to blow them out into a tissue. If your nose is continually stuffy and becomes easily crusted around your nostrils, use a tissue, not your finger. If crusty mucus becomes persistent, talk to your doctor. There might be an underlying condition behind the crust, like allergies, or an upper respiratory infection. Bottom line, we all need to do a little housecleaning now and again. But don’t pick! Instead, grab a tissue and stay healthy!