Is Your Kid a Nose Picker? And Is It Super Bad If They Are? We Asked a Pediatrician

nose picking mobile
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Real talk: I’m the mom of a nose picker.

I’ve tried everything—offering tissues, delivering Oscar-worthy reactions to the grossness, hinting at the long-term social embarrassment my child is destined to experience should this disgusting habit remain. No dice. My last resort? I dialed a pediatrician. In other words, someone who could lessen my worries (which are mainly germ-related) when it comes to the ick factor of this horrible habit.

Here’s what she had to say.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Kelly Fradin is a pediatrician and mom of two based in New York City. She’s also the author of the new book Advanced Parenting: Advice for Helping Kids Through Diagnoses, Differences and Mental Health Challenges.

1. How bad is nose picking…really?

According to Dr. Fradin, nose picking is a bad habit, yes, but it also can increase our chances of getting sick. “The fragile skin, hair and mucous inside our nose is our body’s primary defense against getting sick,” she explains. “Our nasopharyngeal pathways also filter our impurities in the air and humidify the air, which helps to optimize the health of our lungs.” So, what happens when we pick at it? Per Dr. Fradin, this can interrupt the barrier, which makes us more prone to illness and other problems over time. Still, there’s one red flag she watches out for: Nosebleeds. Nearly everyone picks their nose, Dr. Fradin says, but if the habit starts to trigger nosebleeds, as a pediatrician and parent, that’s when she’s more concerned since that can become a chronic problem.

2. There are ways to minimize the germs

Hand washing matters, this we know. “Our hands are often dirty simply from touching the environment around us,” Dr. Fradin says. “When we then touch our nose, we transfer bacteria and virus to our nose and we get sick.” A preventative tactic for nose pickers? Keep the nails short. “This can help minimize bacteria and decrease the risk,” Dr. Fradin explains.

3. How to get your kid to stop

Your main objective as a parent should be to interrupt the itch-scratch cycle. Serious nose-pickers have often caused abrasions or scrapes inside their nose and damaged the hair that normally moves around boogers, Dr. Fradin says. As the scrapes heal, they also itch and increase the likelihood that boogers will get stuck and feel bothersome. The vicious cycle is born. “To break the cycle, I often ask parents to put a small amount of petroleum jelly or hypoallergenic ointment just inside the nostrils,” Dr. Fradin explains. “Then, I pinch the nostrils gently with a tissue to move this around, which can help soothe and heal and lead to less itch, discomfort and picking.” She adds that as kids grow, they’ll also care more about what their friends think, which may be the ultimate solve.

4. Final question: Is booger eating bad, too?

Gross and unsanitary? Yes. A major risk? Not really, considering you’re ingesting germs that are already in your nose, according to Dr. Fradin. That said, if you catch your child eating another friend’s boogers, that’s more of a cause for concern. (Ew.)

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