We get it. Sometimes you feel the urge to just quickly stick your finger up your nose and pick that stubborn – and sometimes irritating and uncomfortable – booger. However, picking your nose can be more unsanitary than one might think, and in the extreme, it can even lead to damage inside the nasal cavity. Here’s the inside scoop (okay, bad pun) on the effects of nose picking that might make you think twice before doing it again.
The boogers we find in our noses are basically just dried up mucus, and get this, they’re actually a good thing! Mucus and boogers protect us from things that might enter our body and make us sick.
Our noses produce mucus (a watery and usually clear goop) to trap dust, dirt, and debris before it can reach our sinuses, inner ear, brains, and lungs. Once the particles that enter our nose are tapped by the mucus, our nose hairs hold the mix of gems ad goop. Sometimes these hairs move boogers to the very front of our nose and we blow them out, but we can also sweep them toward the back when we sniff in. Nose hairs usually serve as a first line of defense against anything trying to enter the nose (before mucus!), which is why it’s important not to remove them! Boogers form when the mucus dries inside the nose. If there’s an infection or inflammation, the dry booger can turn green or yellow. Some boogers may even be red or brown from dried blood, which means that the nose is especially dry or irritated.
When a person puts their finger into their nose to pick a booger, germs and bacteria from the hand can enter the nasal passage, increasing the chance of infection. Removing boogers can also spread infection to others, as whatever germs were on the booger itself are now on the person’s hand and can transfer to whatever they touch afterwards. Reaching into the nose can also cause cuts and scrapes which increase irritation and make it easier for bacteria to enter the deeper tissues. The tissue in the nose is delicate, so it’s best to keep the fingers out!
Instead of picking the nose, try gently blowing. If the boogers are uncomfortable and not coming out, a saline nasal rinse (water that can loosen and flush out your nose) might help. Try drinking lots of water or using an allergy spray if the nose is especially dry or boogers are very common. Healthcare providers can help you choose the best path here.
If you really feel the need to pick your nose, you should make sure to do so with washed and clean hands, trimmed fingernails, and a tissue around the finger as a clean and soft barrier.