Nose picking: The health reasons you shouldn’t indulge in it


Come on, you know you do it.

Whether you’re in the trusted company of your spouse or sneaking a quick one when you think nobody’s looking, we all pick our noses. Other primates do it, too.

The social stigma around nose picking is widespread. But should we really be doing it — and what should we do with our boogers?

We’re scientists who have researched the environmental contaminants — in our homes, our workplaces, our gardens — so we have some insight on what you’re really jamming up there when your finger is slotted satisfyingly into your sniffer.

Nose picking is a natural habit — children who have not yet learned social norms realize early on that the fit between their forefinger and a nostril is pretty good. But there is lot more than just snot up there.

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During the approximately 22,000 breath cycles per day, the booger-forming mucus up there forms a critical biological filter to capture dust and allergens before they penetrate our airways, where they may cause inflammation, asthma and other long-term pulmonary issues.

Cells in your nasal passage called goblet cells (named after their cuplike appearance) generate mucus to trap viruses, bacteria and dust containing potentially harmful substances such as lead, asbestos and pollen.

Nasal mucus and its antibodies and enzymes are the body’s front line immune defense system against infections.

The nasal cavity also has its own microbiome. Sometimes these natural populations can be disturbed, leading to various conditions such as rhinitis. But in general, our nose microbes help repel invaders, fighting them on a mucus battlefield.

The dust, microbes and allergens captured in your mucus eventually get ingested as that mucus drips down your throat.

This is typically not an issue, but it can exacerbate environmental exposure to some contaminants.

For instance, lead — a neurotoxin prevalent in house dust and garden soils — enters children’s bodies most efficiently through ingestion and digestion.

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So, you might worsen particular environmental toxic exposures if you sniff or eat boogers up instead of blowing them out.

What does the science say about the risks of booger-mining?

Golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus, sometimes shortened to S. aureus) is a germ that can cause a variety of mild to severe infections. Studies show it is often found in the nose (this is called nasal carriage).

One study found that nose picking is associated with S. aureus nasal carriage, meaning the role of nose picking in nasal carriage might be causal in certain cases. Overcoming the habit of nose picking might aid S. aureus decolonization strategies.

Nose picking might also be associated with an increased risk of golden staph transmission to wounds, where it poses a more serious…

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