Classification and external resources

A man picking his nose
ICD-10 F98.8

Nose-picking is the act of extracting dried nasal mucus or foreign bodies from the nose with a finger. Despite being a very common habit, it is a mildly taboo activity in most cultures,[original research?] and the observation of the activity in another person commonly provokes mixed feelings of disgust and amusement.[where?][1] The Latin name for nose-picking, rhinotillexis, is sometimes used in medical literature.



Nose-picking is an extremely common habit, with some surveys indicating that it is almost universal, with people picking their nose an average of about four times a day.[2] A 1995 study into nose picking, requesting information from 1,000 randomly selected adults, gathered 254 respondents. It defined nose-picking as "the insertion of a finger (or other object) into the nose with the intention of removing dried nasal secretions". Of those who responded, 91% said they were current nose pickers (but only 75% of these believed everyone did it) and two people claimed to spend between fifteen to thirty minutes and one to two hours a day picking their nose.[3]

Mucous membranes in the nasal cavity constantly produce a wet mucus that removes dust and pathogens from the air flowing through the cavity. For the most part, the cilia that also line the cavity work to move the mucus toward the throat where it can be swallowed. However, not all the mucus stays fluid enough to be moved by the cilia. The closer the mucus is to the nostril opening, the more moisture it loses to the outside air, and the more likely it is to dry out and become stuck. Once dried, the mucus typically causes a sensation of irritation that leads to the compulsion to dislodge the itch by picking.

In many cultures[which?] nose-picking is considered a private act akin to defecation, urination, flatulence, and belching. Mucophagy, the act of eating the extracted mucus, may be considered more taboo, and is sometimes portrayed in comedies. To be caught nose-picking may be considered humiliating.


A very common habit, nose-picking can or may be used as a body-focused repetitive behavior or obsessive–compulsive disorder, which can become a medical issue called rhinotillexomania.[4][5][6][7] Most cases do not meet this pathological threshold.[3]

Medical risks

Nose-picking may carry a number of medical risks, so many doctors recommend against it and encourage the use of a tissue instead.[8] Risks may include an increase in the diversity of nose flora,[9] occasional nosebleeds (in 25% of those who pick their nose, considering that most of the population picks their nose occasionally)[2] and in rare cases perforation of the nasal septum or self-induced ethmoidectomy.[10] Nose picking, however, should not affect the sense of smell, as the nasal cavity where the olfactory nerves are located is too high up to reach. Also, due to the special nature of the blood supply to the nose and surrounding area, it is possible for retrograde infections from the nasal area to spread to the brain, although this scenario is unlikely to arise from normal rhinotillexis.[citation needed] For this reason, the area from the corners of the mouth to the bridge of the nose, including the nose and maxilla, is known to doctors as the "danger triangle of the face".[citation needed]

Health benefits

Friedrich Bischinger, a lung specialist at Privatklinik Hochrum in Innsbruck,[11] claims that nose-picking combined with nasal mucus eating is beneficial for the immune system.[12][13]

Cultural references

A popular saying in many English-speaking countries is, "You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose". An unusual popular culture reference may be found in the 1968 Mothers of Invention song "Let's Make The Water Turn Black". The song tells a true story of an adolescent acquaintance of composer Frank Zappa who habitually saved his own extracted mucus on the pane of his bedroom window.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Hemenover, Scott H.; Ulrich Schimmack (August 2007). "That's disgusting! ..., but very amusing: Mixed feelings of amusement and disgust". Cognition & Emotion 21 (5): 1102–1113. doi:10.1080/02699930601057037. 
  2. ^ a b Andrade, Chittaranjan; B.S. Srihari (2001). "A preliminary survey of rhinotillexomania in an adolescent sample". The Journal of clinical psychiatry 62 (6): 426–31. doi:10.4088/JCP.v62n0605. PMID 11465519.  Reviewed in:
  3. ^ a b Jefferson, James W.; Trevor D.B. Thompson (1995). "Rhinotillexomania: psychiatric disorder or habit?". The Journal of clinical psychiatry 56 (2): 56–9. PMID 7852253. 
  4. ^ Medical papers at PubMed
  5. ^ Fontenelle, L.F.; M.V. Mendlowicz, T.C. Mussi, C. Marques and M. Versiani (December 2002). "The man with the purple nostrils: a case of rhinotrichotillomania secondary to body dysmorphic disorder". Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 106 (6): 464–6; discussion 466. doi:10.1034/j.1600-0447.2002.01463.x. PMID 12392491. 
  6. ^ AAMFT Consumer Update – Hair Pulling, Skin Picking and Biting: Body-Focused Repetitive Disorders, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
  7. ^ Etymology: from Greek rhino (from ῥίς, rhis, "nose") + τίλλειν (tillein, "to pull") + exo "out" (or according to an alternative analysis, from Neolatin tillexis, "habit of picking", from Greek tillein and έξη, éksi, "habit") + mania.
  8. ^ "What's a Booger?". KidsHealth. 
  9. ^ Wertheim, Heiman F.L.; Menno van Kleef, Margreet C. Vos, Alewijn Ott, Henri A. Verbrugh and Wytske Fokkens (August 2006). "Nose picking and nasal carriage of Staphylococcus aureus". Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 27 (8): 863–7. doi:10.1086/506401. PMID 16874648. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  10. ^ Caruso, Ronald D.; Richard G. Sherry, Arthur E. Rosenbaum, Stephen E. Joy, Ja Kwei Chang, and Douglas M. Sanford (1997). "Self-induced ethmoidectomy from rhinotillexomania". American Journal of Neuroradiology 18 (10): 1949–50. PMID 9403460. Retrieved 2008-12-06. 
  11. ^ "Dr. Bischinger Friedrich: Lungenkrankheiten" (in German). Privatklinik Hochrum. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  12. ^ "Top doc backs picking your nose and eating it". Ananova. Archived from the original on 2005-02-06. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  13. ^ Bankhofer, Hademar (2007). "Nasenbohren" (in German). Gesundheit kennt keine Tabus. München: Südwest. pp. 10–15. ISBN 978-3-517-08373-5. OCLC 185006183. Retrieved 2008-12-07. 
  14. ^ Zappa, Frank; Peter Occhiogrosso (1989). "Boogers from Hell". The Real Frank Zappa Book. New York City: Poseidon Press. pp. 85–87. ISBN 0-671-70572-5. OCLC 43484351. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nose picking — Rhinotillexomania, one of the more obscure and exotic terms in medicine. Rhinotillexomania has drawn attention because of the habit to which it refers. It is a recent term coined to describe compulsive nose picking according to Chittaranjan… …   Medical dictionary

  • nose-picking — verb Insertion of ones finger into ones nostril, especially to remove mucus. See Also: pick ones nose, nose pick, nose picker …   Wiktionary

  • Picking — can mean: * Various styles of guitar playing: **Fingerpicking **Flatpicking **Hybrid picking **Pattern picking **Alternate picking **Sweep picking **Tremolo picking * Continental knitting, a style of knitting also known as picking * Lock Picking …   Wikipedia

  • nose-pick — verb To pick boogers from the nose. Children should not nose pick. See Also: nose picker, nose picking …   Wiktionary

  • nose-picks — verb He nose picks all the time. (He picks his nose) See Also: nose picker, nose picking …   Wiktionary

  • nose-picked — verb He nose picked. (He picked his nose) See Also: nose picker, nose picking …   Wiktionary

  • nose-picker — verb a) One who picks their nose. b) He is a nose picker. See Also: nose pick, nose picking …   Wiktionary

  • nose — nose1 W2S2 [nəuz US nouz] n ↑ear, ↑nose, ↑tooth, ↑eye ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ 1¦(on your face)¦ 2 (right) under somebody s nose 3 stick/poke your nose into something 4 keep your nose out (of something) 5 turn your nose up (at something) 6 with your nose in the… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • nose — nose1 [ nouz ] noun count *** 1. ) the part of your face above your mouth that you use for smelling and breathing. The two holes in your nose are called nostrils: Her nose is bleeding. Hold your nose (=press the two sides of it) and put your head …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • picking one's nose — putting a finger in one s nose …   English contemporary dictionary

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