Dear Bundoo: Will my daughter’s nasty habit make her sick?
This week in Dear Bundoo, one mother worries that her daughter’s bad habit isn’t only gross but can possibly make her ill.
My five-year-old will not stop picking her boogers. The worst part is that she doesn’t just pick them…she eats them! We’ve talked to her about germs and getting sick, we’ve talked to her about how other children may pick on her at school. But she doesn’t seem to care and never stops. Nothing we say can convince her it’s a bad habit and could even possibly make her ill. Please help. I’m disgusted.
Dear Grossed Out,
Good news! Nose picking, also known as rhinotillexis, and its related cousin of eating one’s mucus (mucophagy) might be more gross than dangerous. Parents often discourage rhinotillexis due to an assumed risk of acquiring germs from a dirty finger, and they strongly discourage mucophagy due to the germs on both the finger and the “booger.” However, there is some evidence to suggest that mucophagy may actually boost the immune system! The theory is this: that germs in the nose are weakened by our body’s immune system. Mucus is the byproduct of the immune system. If mucus is then ingested in very small amounts, the body has the chance to develop immunity against some of those weakened microbes. That being said, hands come into contact with all types of surfaces, and introducing one’s finger into a nose can also insert germs into the body. Viruses such as the influenza virus just love getting in contact with mucosal surfaces. Here in the US, picking one’s nose is not socially acceptable. Nevertheless, young children or those who have not yet developed a strong sense of self-consciousness could not care less and often continue the behavior despite warnings of being teased.
Like many stereotypical childhood behaviors, this one should lessen over time. In the meantime, make sure there is not a reason for nasal discomfort. Allergies and recent upper respiratory infections can cause an overabundance of mucus that can become uncomfortable when lodged in little noses. Ask your child’s doctor if a nasal saline spray might be beneficial. Then explain to your daughter that she is not to pick her nose in public and together come up with a subtle signal you can use to remind her when there are people present. No one likes to be shamed in public, especially by their parents.
Answered by Dr. Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Bundoo Pediatrician
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