Why picking your nose isn’t as harmless as it seems

Why picking your nose isn’t as harmless as it seems

About 90% of people sometimes put a finger in their nose, according to American research. Some then eat the contents. Snot is said to be good for the immune system, yet ENT doctors strongly advise against nose picking.

We pick our nose because of a stimulus, says Waiel Alkhateeb, otolaryngologist and somnologist at Haaglanden Medical Center (HMC). “That’s because scabs form in the nose that irritate the mucous membrane, the lining on the inside of the nose, or obstruct nasal passage. The scabs are then picked away with the nail.”

Nosebleed after nose picking

Picking your nose often starts innocently enough, but according to the otolaryngologist it is very harmful to pick your nose. It can damage the mucous membrane. “The nasal mucosa is essential for the blood circulation of the nose, as well as for warming, humidifying and cleaning the inhaled air,” he explains.

Nails are very dirty and fingers are full of bacteria.

Waiel Alkhateeb, ENT specialist

“Because you keep causing damage there, the blood flow to the cartilage in the nose is also affected. This can lead to a nosebleed, because the blood vessels are damaged. These capillaries are close together in the area at the front of the septum. As a result, this is the place where most nosebleeds occur.”

Picking can also lead to the death of parts inside the nose. “Moreover, nails are very dirty and fingers are full of bacteria,” Alkhateeb adds. “Damage to the mucosa by these bacteria also causes inflammation.”

Nose picking can become compulsive

Picking the nose can also become compulsive, which is called rhinotillexomania. This can have major consequences for the nose. “The tissue under the mucous membrane – cartilage and bone of the nose – has less blood flow and is more likely to become inflamed,” says Alkhateeb.

“Due to years of inflammation and reduced blood flow, the tissue can die. The consequences of this are holes in the septum to complete collapse of the nose and chronic inflammation, so that nasal patency is continuously obstructed. In extreme cases, inflammation can spread to parts outside the nose .”

Snot can be annoying, but it is extremely important for a healthy existence.

Jacques Neefjes, professor of chemical immunology

Leaving your nose alone when dry crusts irritate is tricky. But the ENT doctor gives a number of tips to stay away from it. Such as regularly rinsing your nose with a salt water solution from the drugstore. “You can also use a nasal ointment to moisten the mucous membrane and get rid of the scabs,” he mentions as a second option.

“Whatever you do, don’t pick your nose. Not even with a handkerchief. Sometimes there is an underlying cause, such as an allergy or an autoimmune disease. It is therefore important to always consult the doctor in case of persistent or serious complaints. “

Eating out of your nose

After picking the nose, some people eat the contents. Several researchers say that snot can be healthy for the immune system. Jacques Neefjes, professor of chemical immunology at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), can imagine that. According to him, snot is a simple word, but the substance has a complex structure and an important task.

“A very important part of snot are so-called mucins,” explains Neefjes. These are long proteins with a lot of sugars, including sialic acids (negatively charged sugars). A lot of dust sticks to this. Bacteria and viruses are actually wrapped up a bit by the mucins. This means that viruses and bacteria can infect your nose and mouth a lot worse. The nose is the most important, because a lot of air passes through here.”

The professor of chemical immunology does not recommend eating the snot. On average, your nose produces 1 liter of snot per day. “Apparently it doesn’t taste bad and we may chew it, so that it is more manageable,” explains Neefjes. “But a large part of the snot already goes through your palate (where your nose and mouth merge) into your esophagus.

Moreover, viruses make good use of it by entering through your hands, your face and eventually your nose. The mucus in snot then ensure that the viruses are wrapped and inactivated. Snot can be annoying, but it is extremely important for a healthy existence.”

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