What Is Rhinotillexomania?

Young man suffering from nasal bleeding

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What Is Rhinotillexomania?

Rhinotillexomania is a condition that causes a person to compulsively pick their nose till they self-harm. Picking your nose is a habit many people are familiar with. However, when it becomes an obsessive compulsion to pick your nose, it is rhinotillexomania.

While people might typically pick their noses out of boredom, nervousness, or just because they are trying to get rid of a pesky booger, a person with rhinotillexomania feels compelled to pick their noses. A person with this condition might also experience severe stress and anxiety and engage in other habits like nail-biting.

Typically picking your nose doesn’t cause any damage, but with rhinotillexomania, it could. In a 2001 study of nose-picking in 200 teenagers, almost all the participants admitted that they had a habit of picking their noses. About 17% of the participants thought they had a serious problem. Another 25% experienced occasional nose bleeds.

Rhinotillexomania has been linked to other co-occurring conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and other similar disorders like skin picking. Nose picking in public is often not socially acceptable. This makes people with rhinotillexomania feel embarrassed whenever they feel the compulsion to pick their noses. Some research shows that the condition is more common in children and young adults.

Characteristics 

While occasionally picking your nose might be a harmless habit, Rhinotillexomania could be damaging. Some researchers classify rhinotillexomania as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. For nose picking to become rhinotillexomania, certain criteria have to be met: 

  • It should take up an inordinate amount of a person’s time
  • A person with the condition is likely to have repeatedly tried and failed to stop the habit 
  • It should be so repetitive as to result in self-injury 
  • The habit might disrupt a person’s daily functioning

Identifying Rhinotillexomania

A diagnosis of rhinotillexomania is typically made when a person continues picking their nose even when it causes them harm. Most people who pick their noses tend to stop as soon as they’ve scratched their itch or gotten rid of any boogers they have. Rhinotillexomania is a compulsion that makes it hard to stop without treatment.

Rhinotillexomania could also be brought on by severe stress and anxiety. People in these categories find the habit calming and comforting. Rhinotillexomania is considered to be a form of compulsive skin picking. The condition could cause complications such as: 

  • Nosebleeds 
  • Risk of developing respiratory infections
  • Perforations in the nasal septum 
  • Increased risk of developing sinus infections 
  • Spreading of illnesses 

Causes 

As is the case with most compulsive disorders, there’s no known cause for rhinotillexomania. Research, however, offers some explanation as to why skin picking disorders like rhinotillexomania occur. 

  • Genetics: Some research shows that people with rhinotillexomania might have a family history of body-focused repetitive behaviors. This means they might have a parent or a sibling who might not have rhinotillexomania but might have other skin picking habits.
  • Anxiety: Some people with anxiety disorders develop skin-picking habits like rhinotillexomania to help them cope. They might pick their noses in anxiety-inducing situations to calm themselves down. 
  • Medication: The side effect of certain medications might be responsible for the sudden development of rhinotillexomania in a person who previously had no history of nose-picking. Medications like stimulants used to treat ADHD have been linked to skin picking disorders. 
  • Hormonal changes: In certain cases, hormonal changes in women have been linked to rhinotillexomania. A study on the effects of hormonal changes on skin picking in women found that the condition can worsen during extreme hormonal changes like with menopause. 

Types 

Rhinotillexomania can take on one of two forms. For some people with the condition, picking at their noses with their fingers is satisfying enough. These people might seek to obsessively clean out any mucus or other materials they can find within their nasal cavity.

Other people with rhinotillexomania might obsessively pull out their nasal hairs either using their fingers or other tools like a tweezer. 

Treatment 

There is typically no treatment needed for nose-picking. However, compulsive nose-picking can be harmful, and people with the condition often need to get help to stop picking their noses. A treatment plan for rhinotillexomania typically depends on the severity of a person’s condition. Some of the treatment options available to people with the condition include: 

  • Mechanical: For some people with rhinotillexomania, simply keeping their hands busy could help wean off the habit. Using a tool like a fidget spinner could help. 
  • Behavioral therapy: This form of therapy focuses on helping a person replace a negative habit or negative behavior with a positive one. A behavioral therapist will attempt to find the root cause of the incessant nose picking with the person living with it. If it suddenly developed, they might attempt to find the trigger.
  • Medications: There are currently no medications used to treat rhinotillexomania specifically. However, if the condition is caused by another disorder like OCD or anxiety disorder, treating those conditions might help ease symptoms of rhinotillexomania or even help a person completely stop the habit. 

Coping 

While there is no specific treatment one can take to put an end to rhinotillexomania, there are certain tips and tricks that could make it easier to cope with 

  • De-stress in alternative ways. If the cause of your rhinotillexomania is severe stress, finding other healthy outlets like exercising regularly can help stop the condition. 
  • Keep your nose moist. If you have a very dry nasal cavity, you are more likely to develop dry boogers that need to be picked at. You can keep your nose moist with a saline spray, staying well hydrated, or using a humidifier when you are indoors.
  • Attend to nasal conditions as soon as you can. Allergies can lead to an increase in the production of mucus which in turn causes boogers. You can prevent allergies from escalating by taking over-the-counter antihistamines. 

Rhinotillexomania can be frustrating and, in some severe cases, might even interfere with your daily functioning, but with the right treatment plan and coping mechanisms, you can get past it. If a stressor is causing it, eliminating the stressor in your life could cure your rhinotillexomania. If you are obsessively picking your nose to the point of self-harm, the first step is to speak to a mental health professional

If you or a loved one are struggling with OCD, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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