The Right Way to Pick your Nose
“Stop picking your nose!” I’ve heard many parents tell their kids time and time again to not pick their noses, especially during the dry winter.
I am willing to go out on a limb and say that most people on the average pick their noses at least once a month. Nose picking has always taken a bad rap for being unsanitary, unhygienic, and sometimes disgusting. However, when the situation arises, most will not hesitate but to nose pick – while driving alone in the car, in the bathroom, alone in the room, or even in public with a masterful skill of camouflaging nose-picking actions with some elaborate hand movements and speed.
Parents usually see their children start to pick their noses around the age of two – thus we see more frequent nose bleeds during this time. In fact, parents are often the guilty ones when scolding their 2-year-old kids not to pick their noses. As a matter of fact, they themselves do not hesitate to quickly relieve their noses of that hard and painful nasal mucus (aka. snot). Maybe it would be more correct to tell your kids when “not to pick your nose” instead of just telling them to stop picking their noses. Place yourself in their shoes. Toddlers do not have the capability to get rid of their snot by blowing their noses (and neither do adults for that matter.) Believe it or not, society is more forgiving of a 2-year-old picking their noses in public versus an adult.
Nose-picking is indeed the number-one cause of nose bleeds in small children. Another result of picking your nose is the possibility of creating an unpleasant bacterial infection in the nose area known as nasal vestibulitis – infection of the tissues just inside the entrance of the nostril. Although this is an uncommon problem, it can occur with excessive nose picking and many times in people who pull their nose hairs. Despite the risks of infection or a nosebleed, the relief of taking out the “thorn in your side” is well worth the risk for most of the population.
We even sometimes see little children eat their own nasal mucus. While I don’t recommend that children consume their own nasal mucus for the sake of proper etiquette, scientifically speaking, it may help strengthen the immune system. And in any case, what’s done is done. If parents see their children perform this act, it is better not to scold them and put them to shame but to explain it in a more positive way and gracefully tell them not to do it again.
Are there ways to prevent kids from picking their noses? Well, the use of a humidifier in the dry winter especially at night will help prevent hard “snot” from forming. Another way is to moisten the nose directly with a nose spray created specifically for babies or indirectly with a warm bath. However, you should avoid using nasal drops that contain preservatives, especially for frequent use. This is because preservatives in nasal drops are known to damage the mucosal lining of the nose [1,2]. Meanwhile, there are nose sprays on the market that contain nothing but purified water along with some kind of buffering. There are also ones that are acidified to prevent bacterial growth. The downside to non-preservatives drops is that they cannot and should not be used for more than a couple of days because of bacterial, fungal growth. There are concerns by some that non-preservatives nasal sprays that are acidified may not be enough to prevent bacterial growth. Conversely, there has been a study that basically finds no difference in bacterial growth between nasal drops that contain preservatives and ones that are acidified .
Is there a right way to pick your nose? Officially, the answer is “no” but technically there is. Everything boils down to performing the action in a discreet manner and accomplishing the task without damaging the mucosal lining of the nose. The most important thing to know about our noses is that the septal portion of the nose or the wall dividing our nose from right and left contains many delicate blood vessels and nerves. As a blessing in disguise kids will hopefully learn not to pick strongly in that direction because it is painful to pick in that area.
Going back to the question of whether or not there is a right way to pick your nose, the best answer is this: when no one is looking.
1. Cho JH, Kwun YS, Jang HS, Kang JM, Won YS, Yoon HR.Laryngoscope. 2000 Feb;110(2 Pt 1):312-7. Long-term use of preservatives on rat nasal respiratory mucosa: effects of benzalkonium chloride and potassium sorbate.
2. Ho CY, Wu MC, Lan MY, Tan CT, Yang AH.Am J Rhinol. 2008 Mar-Apr;22(2):125-9. doi: 10.2500/ajr.2008.22.3154. In vitro effects of preservatives in nasal sprays on human nasal epithelial cells.
3. Ryan WR, Hwang PH. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Nov;136(11):1099-103. doi: 10.1001/archoto.2010.179. Safety of a preservative-free acidified saline nasal spray: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover clinical trial.