Why Picking Your Nose Is Riskier Than You Think

It's a gross habit that from a young age children are told not to do, but many people pick their nose. In fact, a study published in 1995 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 91 percent of people admitted to nose picking and 75 percent of respondents said "almost everyone does it." For some, nose picking may be done out of boredom or as a nervous habit (via Healthline). Though rare, others may pick their nose as the result of a behavioral condition called rhinotillexomania, characterized by repetitive, compulsive, nose picking.

In addition to being less-than-pleasant to see someone engage in this behavior, nose picking comes with several health risks. One of the biggest concerns is spreading infections, including COVID-19. Nose picking increases the risk of spreading bacteria and viruses from your own body to everything you touch. Unfortunately, as infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Pottinger, a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told CNN, you also "transfer germs from your fingertips into the nose, which is the exact opposite of what you want." That means, if infected, you can spread the coronavirus to others by picking your nose, and the habit also increases the risk of bringing it and other germs directly into your own body. Other health risks of frequent nose picking include damage to the nasal cavity, nosebleeds, and septum damage.

How to stop picking your nose

If you pick your nose due to irritation, it can be helpful to get any underlying conditions under control. For example, saline sprays and saline rinses can help alleviate dryness and seasonal allergies. If you pick your nose out of boredom or habit, you can use memory device tricks to help you stop. For instance, consider placing a bandage on your dominant finger so every time you move your finger up to your nose to pick, you'll feel the bandage and be reminded to stop.

If nose picking is tied to stress or anxiety, try finding other ways to alleviate these emotions, such as listening to soothing music or practicing deep breathing. Stress balls or fidget spinners can also keep your hands busy and prevent them from engaging in unwanted activity like picking your nose. Finally, if nose picking has become compulsive or none of these strategies work, a mental health care provider can help you manage the anxiety causing the behavior and come up with strategies to stop picking.