It’s almost universally acknowledged that nose picking is a socially unacceptable behavior, but aside from the visual gross-out factor, why is it that children (and adults!) are discouraged from the habit? According to some experts, picking your nose can have some serious negative health effects–possibly even transmitting dangerous Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, many strains of which are antibiotic-resistant.
According to research published recently in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, overlooked sites deep within the nose may be reservoirs for Staphylococcus aureus (S.aureus), known to the public as the bacteria responsible for potentially deadly staph infections.
“About one-third of all people are persistent S. aureus carriers, another third are occasional carriers and a remaining third don’t seem to carry S. aureus at all,” study senior author Dr. David Relman, a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, said in a university news release. “Not everyone who carries S. aureus gets sick. When they’re out walking the streets and otherwise healthy, attempts to rid them of their S. aureus are not necessary, and even sometimes futile.”
Previous research had pinpointed lower areas of the nose and the face as natural breeding grounds for S. aureus, and even when eliminated, the bacteria returns after a few weeks or months.
While S.aureus on the skin and in the nose may not seem significant if it naturally occurs in those regions, researchers explained disturbing those bacteria reservoirs–like though nose picking–could potentially lead to dangerous infections elsewhere in the body.
“But once a carrier enters a hospital with an underlying illness or a weakened immune system or a high likelihood of undergoing skin-penetrating procedures, S. aureus carriage is a major liability,” said Relman, explaining staph infection through a wound, incision or catheter placement could cause potentially life-threatening problems such as sepsis, pneumonia or infection of heart valves.
Are there other dangers associated with nose picking?
If transmission of staph infection isn’t enough of a reason to avoid nose picking, you may want to consider the other major issue associated with this habit. According to experts, chronic nose picking, known medically as rhinotillexomania, can cause significant damage to the nose.
Individuals who suffer from this condition can pick at the nose so often and forcefully they injure it, and any wounds remain open and unhealed because the picking continues. While it is entirely possible to get a staph infection in this manner, any infection is now possible with open areas of the nose.
A report from Skin Pick indicates any infection of what is known as the “danger triangle,” or the area from one corner of the mouth, over the bridge of the nose, and down to the opposite corner of the mouth, can potentially head to the brain as the blood supply in this area of the body is closely shared.
Brain infections, according to the Mayo Clinic, can result in persistent health issues, including:
- Mood disorders.
- Personality changes.
- Memory problems.
- Intellectual disabilities.
- Lack of muscle coordination.
- Hearing or vision defects.
- Speech impairments.
In some cases, brain infections may even result in coma or death.
Aside from infection, frequent nose picking can cause irritation and may leave an individual susceptible to frequent nose bleeds.