What Are the Causes of Nose Picking?

Written by polly glodowski
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What Are the Causes of Nose Picking?
It is not uncommon to see nose picking conducted in public. (bogeyman image by pavel siamionov from Fotolia.com)

Most people think nose picking is gross and unsanitary and claim they never engage in such lowly behaviour. But according to a 1995 survey conducted by "The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry," 91 per cent of 254 people anonymously identified themselves as current nose pickers. It seems more people are picking their noses than they would care to admit. Nose picking is an innocent behaviour for most. For a smaller percentage, it can become a psychiatric disorder.

Bad Habit

The most common cause of nose picking occurs when a person occasionally picks his nose while lost in thought or out of sheer boredom. This action is comparable to someone biting his or her nails or cuticles or picking at a scab absentmindedly. This is considered an occasionally performed bad habit and nothing more. It is not uncommon to witness nose picking performed in public. A driver lost in thought while stopped at a red light may be spotted picking his nose. A bored office worker may be caught picking her nose at her desk. People who are caught picking their noses are usually embarrassed since most people think that nose picking should be conducted in private.

Relieving Irritation

Nasal passages have a tendency to become dried out and irritated by such things as excessively dry atmospheres, allergies, chemicals and air pollution. A common response to nasal dryness and irritation is to pick and scratch at the offending area. Just as scratching at dry patches on the hands or face will not cure the dryness, and may, in fact make it worse, nose picking to relieve nasal irritation will not stop the irritation from occurring. As an alternative to nose picking, products created to relieve these issues are recommended. Some examples include moisturising nasal sprays, allergy medications and neti pots for nasal irrigation.

Removing Nasal Secretions

Head colds, sinus infections and allergies cause nasal secretions, or mucus, to build up within the nasal passages. These secretions start out wet but then dry up over time. Head colds and sinus infections can cause large amounts of mucus to be present in the nose, obstructing the passages and making it difficult to breathe. Allergies may produce a steady, dripping and highly irritating stream of secretions to flow from the nose. This blockage or stream of mucus prompts a person to pick in his nose in an attempt to remove the build-up of mucus or wipe away the secretions.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive nose picking, called rhinotillexomania, is considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People afflicted with rhinotillexomania may require medical or psychological help to prevent them from becoming severely injured or sick. This disorder is characterised by its sufferers' overwhelming feelings of anxiety and nervousness and tendencies to suppress anger. In order to relieve these negative feelings, people with this disorder pick their noses so excessively that injury is a common occurrence. The injured areas are prevented from healing because of the relentless picking. This, in turn, can easily lead to infection, which can spread to the brain. If the brain becomes infected, antibiotics or emergency medical care is necessary.

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