Take the Pick Out of Nose Picking


nicole-freedman-author-banner-033114 My nephew recently came up to me and said, “I have a boogie” as he held out his finger and waves a ball of freshly plucked mucous in front of me. Gross. I immediately remedied this situation by handing him a tissue and sending him to the restroom to wash his hands.  Does this sound familiar? Nose picking is a very common habit among kids. In preparation for writing this RN Remedies® blog post, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeffrey Koempel, MD, MBA, chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, about this problem and some ways to help get your child to stop picking their nose.

Why children pick their nose

Your child may pick their nose for many reasons. Sometimes it’s to alleviate the sensation of something uncomfortable in the nasal passage. Other times it is a nervous habit or something done out of curiosity or boredom. Some kids don’t pick intentionally—it is a learned habit that is done subconsciously. Regardless of the cause, it is not polite.Take the Pick Out of Nose Picking

Is nose picking really that bad?

Is nose picking really that big of a deal? I asked Dr. Koempel for his take on this issue. According to Koempel, the biggest problem with kids picking their nose is the social stigma associated with it—it just doesn’t look good to be caught with your finger in your nose. There are some potential health issues associated with nose picking, mainly the potential for causing bloody noses and introducing bacteria into the nose, but his biggest concern is that nose picking is just not socially acceptable in any culture, anywhere around the world.

Why nasal mucous (boogers) exist

The purpose of mucous in your child’s nose is to help lubricate their nasal passages and prevent inhaled germs from passing down into their lungs. The nose has very small little hairs called cilia that move this mucous and the little trapped particles move toward the back of the throat to be swallowed or out of the nose. Boogers generally contain particles of dirt, dust, pollen and bacteria. When your child picks their nose they are irritating the sensitive inner nasal mucosa (moist skin), which can lead to bleeding and scabbing in their nose. If your child continues to pick they may be repeatedly interfering with scab formation and the nose may get very irritated.

Additionally, when your child picks their nose, bacteria gets on their finger or under their fingernails. If your child is sick, especially with a cold or other upper respiratory virus, then it is easy to pass germs to others via this mucous. Your child could also get them self sick by introducing bacteria or viral agents into the body that are already on their fingers.

What to do if your child picks their nose

It’s not recommended to scold your child for picking their nose, but do consistently request that they use a tissue instead. Dealing with this issue is like addressing any other “bad habit” with consistent and positive reinforcement. Explain to your child that it is not polite to pick and something “big boys/girls” don’t do. Other tips include:

  • Asking your child to wash their hands after catching them pick their nose
  • Keeping your child’s fingernails short to prevent nails from irritating the inside of the nose or removing scabs, which may lead to bleeding or infection
  • If your child is picking at something bothersome inside their nose, ask them to go the bathroom to gently blow their nose instead.
  • When in public, create a “code word” with your child that you can say to gently request that your child stop picking.
  • Placing mittens or gloves on your child’s hands in the privacy of your own home to deter them from picking
  • Don’t put hot sauce, chili powder or any other irritants on your child’s fingers. This can cause intense burning /pain and irritation inside of the nose.
  • Keeping your child’s nose moist by using saline drops, lubricating nasal gel or home humidifier. Your child may be trying to pick a hard booger that could be causing them discomfort.
  • Giving your child something to keep their hands busy and out of their nose. Why not try arts and crafts, outdoor sports, etc.?

If you think that your child is picking their nose because they are nervous, try to find the root of the problem and what they are worrying about. It may be a good idea to speak with your child’s pediatrician if you think your child is anxious.

Many thanks to Dr. Koempel for taking the time to speak with me about nose picking. I definitely learned a thing or two about dealing with the issue. I hope that this article helps you!