Does Picking Your Nose Cause Sinus Infections?

When feeling stuffy and a tissue just won't do the trick, some might turn to nose-picking in a desperate attempt to breathe freely once again. It's nothing to be ashamed of. While kids might enjoy nose-picking simply for the joy of grossing out their fellow classmates, adults, on the other hand, may succumb to nose-picking when faced with allergies, illness, or dry weather (via Dr. Jonathan A. Hoenig). In fact, a survey published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that out of over 250 anonymous adult respondents, 91% identified themselves as "current nose pickers." Clearly, you're not alone.

So what causes an itchy blocked nose to begin with? According to ENT for Children, our mucus, though meant to stay moist, doesn't always do so. The closer to the nostril opening, the more likely the skin is to dry out. As a result, this can lead to dryness, discomfort, and itchiness. By nose-picking, we attempt to scratch that itch or to dislodge an otherwise bothersome obstruction — a.k.a. a booger.

On paper, nose-picking seems harmless. Sure, maybe a little gross, but harmless nonetheless, right?

We transfer germs through nose-picking

As it turns out, too much gouging can make us vulnerable to infection. ENT for Children cautions that nose-picking provides easy access for contaminants to enter through the nose. The bacteria and germs our fingers come in contact with throughout the day make their way into the body and can cause infection, including more severe illnesses, such as staph infection. Over-picking of the nose can also lead to skin damage from harsh scratching. This can result in bleeding or the development of pimples inside the nose. In the case of sinus infections, nose-picking increases your chances of developing sinusitis.

Although tempting, it's best to leave our mucus as-is. It's there for a reason — it works to keep our body free of pathogens that we would otherwise invite in through our fingertips. If the discomfort is proving difficult to ignore, Dr. Jonathan A. Hoenig offers some alternative suggestions for nasal relief. For example, consider using a saline nasal spray to combat dryness and keep the inside of the nose moist. Alternatively, a saline rinse can be helpful for cleaning out the sinus cavity if you're dealing with hardened mucus. When it comes to simple home remedies, try keeping a portable pack of tissues on hand as needed. You can also wrap a bandage around your fingertip to help you resist the urge to scratch.