What to Know About Nose Picking?

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 29, 2022
4 min read

What is picking your nose a sign of?

Picking your nose isn't likely something you do in public. It's unsanitary and uncomfortable for others to witness; in some cases, you could even be hurting yourself. Looking around a room full of children, you're likely to see at least one with a finger up their nose. 

For good nasal health, though, resisting the urge to pick your nose is essential and can keep you from spreading unwanted bacteria. While picking your nose from time to time isn't going to kill you, it's a bad habit to develop, like nail biting, and can lead to an infection in your nasal tract. 

There are some underlying reasons why both adults and children may feel the need to dig around in their noses. Keep reading to discover the ramifications of this nose picking.

There are many reasons why children and adults alike engage in this socially unacceptable habit of nose picking. Mucus in our nose helps lubricate the nasal passage, preventing germs from traveling down into the lungs. The mucus in your nose may also increase with allergies and sinus infections. If something causing discomfort is lodged in your nasal passage, you may feel the need to scrape it out with your finger. For some children, meanwhile, nose picking develops as a nervous habit or is done out of boredom. 

Eventually, this habit is picked up subconsciously, leading to compulsive, repetitive behavior that is difficult to stop. While rarely dangerous, picking your nose isn't socially acceptable and can cause bacteria to spread. Picking your nose may relieve some discomfort when you are dealing with a dry nose, but picking at that dry nose can lead to further irritation and even cause bleeding and scabbing. Repeatedly picking at a dry nose can interfere with scab formation and introduce bacteria into the body that is lodged under your fingernails. 

When you pick your nose, bacteria can also get on your fingers because our mucus contains particles of dirt, pollen, and dust.

Seeing your child pick their nose, eat their boogers, and wipe their finger on the nearest item is not only horrifying but unsanitary. Nipping this bad habit in the bud is essential and can prevent nosebleeds or keep your child from developing an infection. 

Does it seem like your child can't keep their fingers away from their nose? Here are some helpful tips that can get your child to stop digging for metaphorical gold in their nose:

  • Refrain from scolding your child and instead politely request that they blow their nose into a tissue
  • Explain to them in simple terms that it is not polite to pick their nose and develop a code word when in public to request that they stop picking 
  • Figure out the root of the problem. Is your child picking their nose because they are nervous? Do they have allergies? Consult with your child's pediatrician if you can't seem to figure out the problem. 
  • Prevent dry nasal passages with saline nose drops or a cool air humidifier. 
  •  Treat seasonal allergies with over-the-counter treatment options. 
  • After catching a child picking their nose, request that they wash their hands and keep hand sanitizer around just in case. 

If a dry nose is the reason behind habitual nose-picking, consider purchasing a saline spray that can soothe dryness. Helpful mucus that keeps bacteria at bay in your nose can be washed away by saline spray if used excessively, though, and it can actually dry out your nose even more. As an alternative, natural oil like coconut oil can be applied to the nose's inside lining to rehydrate it and end the nose-picking cycle. 

Surgery could benefit those with septal deviations who only experience airflow through one of their nostrils. Those who suffer from frequent nose bleeds or infections should talk to their doctor, as this could be a sign of a more severe health issue. 

Picking your nose from time to time isn't life-threatening, but it can create a problem when it becomes a habit. Excessive nose picking damage can look like frequent nosebleeds or reoccurring infections. Sores may develop inside the nose from frequent nose-picking, and it doesn't take more than a simple scratch to cause a significant nose bleed. Being rough while picking your nose or picking with long fingernails can lead to scraping the inner lining and cause scabbing. 

When you pick at a scab, you risk pulling away at the lining of your inner nasal cavity and introducing bacteria. Picking at your nose enough can even cause a perforation between your nostrils to develop. People with weak immune systems or who are ill are then at an increased risk of developing an infection like Staphylococcus. 

Our bodies produce about a quart of mucus every day and swallow much of it. Because our bodies make boogers from the same mucus we swallow daily, picking your nose and eating it may not affect your immune system. The mucus we swallow naturally acts like a vaccine. When it reaches our GI tract, it teaches our immune system about the type of pathogens in our environment. 

While there isn't a significant amount of research to support the benefits of picking and eating boogers, it at least doesn't appear to be harmful. One study found, though, that chronic nose pickers are more likely to carry the bacteria Staphylococcus than those who don't, so avoiding the habit of retrieving and ingesting your own mucus (even in private) is probably wise. 

Picking your nose occasionally is often all right, but if this becomes a habit, you risk causing nose damage or developing an infection. Speak to your doctor if you find that your nose picking has become a habit. They can help you manage this compulsive behavior.