You want to stop picking your nose? You want to learn how to break the nose picking addiction? or you want to help a kid you stop? Even though everyone agrees its gross, you might be surprised to learn that 91% of adults admit to picking their noses—but only 71% of adults think it is a common habit (source). Nose-picking is an extremely widespread habit: some surveys indicate that it is almost universal, with people picking their nose on average about four times a day! (source)
You are likely aware of the obvious effect of the habit being unpleasant to look at and embarrassing. It is also likely that you realize that it is unhygienic. It is unsightly and rude to pick your nose while in the presence of others, creating social embarrassment.
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. In rare situations, nose picking is a compulsive, repetitive behavior. This condition, called rhinotillexomania, often accompanies stress or anxiety and other habits like nail-biting or scratching. For people with this condition, nose picking can briefly ease anxiety.
Is nose picking your nose an issue? definitely! Among other problems, nose picking can cause serious health complications, like bacterial infections in the nose because nose picking can lead to injury inside the nose and tiny amounts of bleeding (source) which make the germs in your nose thrive and multiply in the presence of blood. That’s a big deal if you ask me.
Can you overcome the habit? Of course. We’ll tell you how.
People pick their nose for a variety of reasons. The sections below will outline some of these potential reasons.
1. Dried out mucus
One of the most common reasons that people pick their nose is to remove dried out mucus which collects around pollen, dust, and other debris inside the nostrils.
This 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. This is quite normal.
2. Nasal conditions
Conditions such as allergies and upper respiratory infections (URIs) can increase levels of nasal mucus, thereby increasing the formation of dried out mucus.
3. Compulsive habit
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. There are a lot of people who have never heard of this disorder, despite the fact that it’s quite prevalent. However, this particular disorder doesn’t necessarily require a medical diagnosis. This is because rhinotillexomania is the technical terminology for someone who has an irresistible compulsion to pick their nose. Rhinotillexomania requires medical treatment. Luckily, there are numerous treatment options available to people who struggle with this repetitive behavior.
Rhinotillexomania is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB). The term BFRB refers Body-focused repetitive behavior which is a general name for impulse control behaviors involving compulsively damaging one’s physical appearance or causing physical injury.
Other types of BFRB include:
- hair pulling
- nail biting
- skin picking
People who are prone to BFRBs are more likely to perform these behaviors when they are feeling stressed or anxious.
Dangers of nose picking
Sticking your fingers up your nose to pick them out can leave your nostrils open to all kinds of bacterial infections because fingernails can leave tiny cuts in your nasal tissue. Potentially dangerous bacteria can find their ways into these openings and cause infections.
A study of over 250 people found that nose pickers were 53% more likely than non-pickers to carry Staphylococcus aureus, a type of germ that can cause all kinds of deeply gross infections, in their nasal passages. It can cause impetigo (a nasty skin condition), boils, and abscesses
2. Nose picking can lead to a perforated septum.
The septum is a portion of bone and cartilage that divides the left and right nostrils. Regular nose picking may damage the septum and even cause a hole.
A 53-year old-woman managed to puncture the soft tissue in her right nostril after more than 40 years of incessant nose picking in that area.
Scratching and digging in your nose will tear bits of dried skin and mucus out of your nose and may break or rupture delicate blood vessels. It can be painful and also causes epistaxis, or nosebleeds. The vast majority of bleeds aren’t serious but can be further aggravated by frequent nose-blowing. But that isn’t always the case.
One study of 200 teenagers found that 25% of subjects suffered from regular nosebleeds, with the average teen picking around four times a day.
One man suffered such a huge nosebleed after picking his nose that he died as a result. An inquest into his death found that his nasal cavity was full of blood and concluded that excessive nose picking was the most likely cause of the bloody eruption.
4. Spreading illnesses
Mucus catches dust, bacteria, viruses, and dust that you breathe in every day. You could share those germs if you pick your nose. One study found that nose pickers may spread the bacterium that’s responsible for a large amount of pneumonia.
In general, it’s best to avoid touching your face, because your eyes, nose, and mouth are all pretty sensitive.
5. Can damage your nasal cavity
Frequent or repetitive nose picking can damage your nasal cavity. One study found that people with rhinotillexomania may experience inflammation and swelling of the nasal tissue. Over time, this may narrow the nostril openings.
How to break the nose picking addiction and stop picking your nose
You first need to determine if your nose picking is truly a problem and identify the cause of your picking habits.
While the occasional nose pick at home may pose no great health risks, if your nose-picking is uncontrollable to the point that you do it in front of other people, you may need to work on breaking the bad habit.
It is also important to consider working on breaking your habit if you are suffering from the potential side effects of nose-picking mentioned above.
If you pick your nose subconsciously, that is a great sign that you have a problem. Friends may point out that you are doing it without even realizing it. In this case, it is best to try to kick the habit for social reasons if nothing else.
1. Prevent your nose from being dry
Dry nasal passages can lead to more dried mucus 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
If you have a stuffy nose, keeping yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water to help make your mucus thinner and more fluid. Clear chicken broth works as well.
Using a saline nasal spray and nasal wash to lubricate the nasal passages
If dry air leads to dry nasal passages, a quick spritz with saline spray may help restore moisture and prevent dry snot and mucus. A humidifier can increase the natural moisture in a room, too.
A saline nasal wash may be especially effective during times when seasonal allergies are most problematic. The rinse will wash out any pollen or allergens that might irritate your nasal passages and cause them to create excess mucus.
Applying a small amount of coconut oil to the insides of the nostrils will also keep it moist
2. Treat nasal conditions that promote nose picking
Conditions such as allergies and Upper respiratory tract infections can increase nasal mucus. 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
3. Keep your nose clean
Regularly blow your nose to remove mucus and debris. This will minimize the urge to pick debris out of your nose. You can also use water or saline solutions to clean your nose. These often come in the form of nasal sprays.
Eliminate nose hair. Excessive nose hair will trap debris in the hair. Things like dust and pollen can get tangled in the hairs and leave you feeling like your nose needs cleared out. This leads to an urge to pick your nose. Use a nose hair trimmer to keep your nose hair trimmed.
It is also simple to keep tissues on hand all the time. So that if you feel like your nose is not clean, you can take care of it in a sanitary and polite way.
4. Modify your behavior
Just keep your hands busy
When your hands are not idle, you will not be giving yourself the opportunity to pick your nose. Find some things to keep your hands busy during times when you are most likely to pick your nose. You could write things down, doodle on a piece of paper, or just keep something to fidget with to keep your hands busy.
Wearing gloves makes it difficult to pick your nose. Before picking, you would have to take the gloves off, and this provides a barrier that stops you from unconsciously doing it. You can even wear stylish gloves that match a coat or outfit to keep your nose picking habit under the radar.
Track the triggers
Very importantly, identify and understand your triggers for picking your nose. Nose picking is often done in response to anxiety or some other emotion. These emotions can be triggered by your environment. Pay attention to when and where you have an urge to pick your nose. If you notice any patterns, try to avoid those triggers.
Perhaps you tend to do it while driving or when you are bored. If so, you can make a series of “if-then” plans to change your behavior. Remind yourself of your habit in case you do it subconsciously by leaving reminder notes where you will see them throughout the day.
Find an alternative stress reliever
People with chronic stress or anxiety may find that nose picking provides a temporary moment of relief. It’s safer for you, your nose, and your anxiety if you find a more productive stress reliever, however.
Consider listening to soothing music when your anxiety level starts to climb. Practice deep breathing by inhaling slowly and counting to 10, then exhaling slowly and counting down to zero.
Keep a Band-Aid on
Keep a Band-Aid on whichever finger you usually use to pick your nose. This Band-Aid will serve as a reminder to keep your finger away from your nose.
If you can’t seem to keep a Band-Aid on for long, try tying a string around that particular finger as a reminder. This will be even more effective when people ask you why you have a string on your finger, since admitting the truth is embarrassing.
Changing any behavior takes time and effort. You are likely to make mistakes along the way. Forgive yourself and move forward. With time, you will be able to stop picking your nose.
5. Treating compulsive nose picking (rhinotillexomania)
Treatment options for rhinotillexomania focus on immediate symptomatic correction along with addressing the underlying psychiatric pathology. Standard treatment options for BFRB disorders include antidepressants and behavioral modification therapy.
Other things that can help include:
- 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
If, however, you find that you pick your nose a lot and can’t make yourself stop, see a doctor. They can help you find ways to manage the behavior and prevent possible side effects, including infections and tissue damage.
How to break the nose picking addiction
Prevent your nose from being dry by Drinking plenty of fluids, Using a saline nasal spray and nasal wash to lubricate the nasal passages, Applying a small amount of coconut oil to the insides of the nostrils will also keep it moist,
Treat nasal conditions that promote nose picking
Keep your nose clean by Regularly blowing your nose to remove mucus and debris, Eliminating nose hair, keeping tissues on hand all the time.
Modify your behavior: Just keep your hands busy, Wear gloves, Track the triggers, Find an alternative stress reliever, Keep a Band-Aid on, Be patient.
Treat compulsive nose picking (rhinotillexomania)