Let’s be honest: Most of us pick our noses sometimes. But depending on how you pick your nose and how often you do it, you can hurt yourself, and in some cases, cause serious damage.

“The problem starts when picking your nose becomes a habit,” says Bradley Otto, MD, director of otolaryngology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“Scratching the surface of your nose a lot can cause a lot of bleeding. If you have long nails or are a little bit rough, you can scrape that lining and bacteria can build up on the skin of your nose.”

If there is crusting there, it will pick at the nasal scabs, introducing more bacteria into the nasal cavity and starting a cycle of shedding more mucus (the lining of the nasal cavity).

“Every time you remove this scab, you’re pulling on the lining of the nose a little bit,” Otto says. “In rare cases, people dig between the nostrils and develop cavities over time.”

How to stop the nose picking cycle

Many nose pickers do this because their noses are too dry. Frequent picking does not fix dryness.

These people often improve with nasal hydration, Otto said. In some cases, salt spray can help. Be careful about using too much saline nasal spray – in some cases, using too much of the spray can dry out your nose and wash away the mucus with the saline solution.

“Natural oils can moisturize the nose,” says Otto. “One of my favorites is coconut oil because it’s natural, it smells good, and it’s not so thick or greasy that it clogs the airways and rubs the nostrils.”

Otto recommends washing your hands and dabbing a little on the inside of your nostrils. You don’t have to do this forever – just enough times the nose will be more hydrated and the nose picking cycle will stop.

Other people who pick their nose regularly may have problems in addition to nasal dryness.

People with atrial deviation, which creates airflow through only one nostril, can have surgery. Frequent nosebleeds and/or nasal infections can indicate other problems, so it’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing either.

Is eating boogers harmful?

Politeness tells us, for example, that you won’t get points by picking your nose or eating and drinking with your colleagues in a meeting.

But personally?

“In a way, I’d say you already do,” Otto said. “We produce about a liter of mucus a day, most of which we swallow.”

Mucus in your nose moves from nostril to nostril and traps particles you breathe in through your nose. That mucus then moves to your stomach.

You may sometimes see headlines promoting overeating as a way to boost your immune system. But because boogers are made up of the same ingredients as the mucus we ingest every day, Otto says eating boogers isn’t that bad for your immune system.

“Swallowing mucus teaches your immune system how to deal with what’s in your nose,” says Otto. “That’s how we protect our lungs—those things are trapped in the air by mucus.”

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