How to Stop Nose Picking

Nose picking is a common behavior from time to time, but it is particularly common and troublesome among young children. Little kids can do some pretty gross things, including picking their noses and sometimes eating what they dig out.

In addition to being socially unacceptable, nose picking spreads germs. A 2018 study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that nose picking can spread the bacteria responsible for pneumonia.

What's more, nose picking can cause trauma to nasal passages, resulting in nosebleeds, infections, and hard-to-heal sores. If nose picking is not nipped in the bud in preschool, it may become a hard-to-break habit as your child gets older. 

Why Kids Pick Their Noses

Nose picking is a pretty normal preschool habit and there are a few reasons why little ones engage in it. Sometimes kids pick their noses because they are bored, stressed, or because it has become a nervous habit.

They also may pick their nose because the excess moisture or dry nasal mucus feels funny to them and they want to get out. No matter which category your child falls in, nose picking is something that needs to be stopped.

Risks of Nose Picking

Nose picking, while annoying and unsanitary, is not likely to cause serious issues. But it is not without consequences. For instance, nose picking can cause nosebleeds especially if a sharp finger snags on the delicate skin inside the nose.

If nose picking is done too vigorously it can even damage the nasal cavity. A study found that people with compulsive nose picking (rhinotillexomania), suffered from inflammation and swelling of their nasal tissues. Over time, it can even cause the person's nostril openings to narrow.

Other Potential Risks

  • Infections
  • Illness
  • Nasal sores

While nose picking might offer temporary relief from a nasal irritation, there are better ways to help kids learn to deal with nasal issues.

How to Stop Nose Picking

As soon as you see your child start to pick their nose, call their attention to it, hand your child a tissue, and remind them to stop. You may have to repeat this process many times before it becomes second nature to use a tissue instead of their finger, but with consistency, you will get there

If nose picking is a new habit, it is possible that there is something in their nose, like excess mucus, that is annoying them. Sometimes allergies, dryness, or an infection can cause discomfort and lead to nose picking. If you suspect your child may need treatment for their discomfort, talk to your healthcare provider for advice. Until then, here are some ways to put an end to nose picking.

Discuss Hygiene Concerns

Some children do not even realize they are picking their nose and it becomes an absent-minded habit. Keep calling your child's attention to it and make them wash their hands after they stop. 

Explain that nose picking is not a clean habit and can not only cause their nose to be infected, it can spread also germs and make them or other people sick.

Utilize Aids

There are plenty of products on the market designed to get a child to stop nose picking, but even the simple act of putting an adhesive bandage on your child's finger might do the trick, especially if they are picking their subconsciously. Explain why you are putting the bandage there, so they connect the bandage to not picking their nose. 

Replace the Habit

Your child's nose picking could stem from boredom or may just fulfill a need to keep busy. If they watch a lot of television or sit passively, try to engage them in other activities. Busy hands are less likely to wind up in their nose.

Ask for Help

It is unlikely that a simple case of nose picking is anything serious, but on rare occasions, it can be, particularly if the behavior comes on suddenly and is coupled with something else (like bedwetting, for example). Nose picking could mean your child has something else going on. Compulsive nose picking, or rhinotillexomania, can be triggered by stress.

If you suspect your child is struggling beyond age-appropriate nose picking, you might want to touch base with your child's healthcare provider.

Ignore It

If you have tried everything to stop nose picking, to no avail, letting them be may be all you can do for a while. Make sure they wash their hands frequently, and keep their nails short and smooth. Sharp nails can cause more damage than those who have been smoothed with a file or nail buffer.

Help for Nasal Issues

Sometimes nose picking is the result of irritation, dryness, allergies, or sinus problems. If your child's nose picking is the result of one of these minor conditions, there are a number of things you can do to help alleviate their symptoms. Here are some potential remedies.

Use a Saline Spray

Sometimes dry air or exposure to allergens can cause nasal irritation. A saline spray might help moisten a dry nose as well as get rid of some allergens. If saline spray does not seem to be enough to moisten your child's nose, you can try a humidifier in their room at night too.

Try a Saline Rinse

A saline rinse is a safe and sanitary way to clear sinus cavities, especially if pollen and other allergens are the root cause behind your child's nose picking. A rinse can also help remove nasal secretions that block the nose, especially if they make breathing through the nose difficult.

Treat Underlying Allergy Issues

If allergies are the reason that your child's nose is bothering them and ultimately leading them to engage in nose picking, you may need to manage your child's allergy. This can include bathing after being outside, taking an antihistamine, covering bedding with allergen-proof covers, and avoiding specific allergens. Talk to your child's pediatrician or allergist to develop a plan that specifically addresses your child's needs.

Stay Hydrated

Making sure your child is staying hydrated is not only important for their health, but can also help keep their nasal passages moist. Plus, staying hydrated allows the cilia in the nose to do their job and push things like bacteria and viruses out of the sinuses, which also can prevent infection.

A Word From Verywell

Despite the hygiene issues and the risks associated with nose picking, many people engage in the habit, especially children. If your child is starting to pick their nose you can put an end to the habit by consistently using positive reinforcement when they use a tissue instead of their finger to clear their nose.

Also, show them how to blow their nose and keep a supply of tissues on hand. This should help put an end to the behavior before it becomes a full-blown habit.

If you are having trouble getting your child to stop picking their nose, or if their picking has started causing nosebleeds or other issues, talk to your child's pediatrician. They can evaluate your child's nose as well as make recommendations on what you can do curb the behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you clean your nose without picking it?

    If your child has a stuffy nose, you may want to use a little bit of saline solution and a bulb syringe to help clear their nasal passages. But if your child is old enough to learn how to blow, you can begin to teach your child how to do this. One way to help them is to hold a tissue over their nose and instruct them to blow bubbles with their nose. Using a humidifier at night also can be useful in keeping mucus thin enough that it can be removed by blowing or by using a syringe.

  • How do you stop a kid from eating their boogers?

    According to healthcare professionals, many kids eat boogers because they are salty tasting. To keep your child from eating boogers, try using positive reinforcement when your child cleans their nose by using a tissue instead rather than reprimanding or scolding them for eating their boogers. Also, talk to them about the fact that boogers contain germs and that picking their nose spreads germs to other people. You also can try using a humidifier to keep their nasal passages moist and reduce the number of boogers they have. If you continue to have trouble getting your child to stop eating their boogers, talk to a healthcare provider for advice.

  • Why does picking your nose make it bleed?

    Nosebleeds are common, especially if your child picks their nose. Even though these nosebleeds do not usually cause enough blood loss to be serious, they can occur easily because the blood vessels that line the nose are small and delicate and can easily break. Nosebleeds also can occur because the air is dry and has dried the lining of the nose making it more sensitive. If your child gets a nosebleed from picking their nose, have your child lean forward and breath through their mouth while you pinch their nostrils closed for 5 minutes. If the bleeding has not stopped repeat the process for another 5 minutes. If they bleeding still has not stopped, contact a healthcare provider.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Connor V, German E, Pojar S, et al. Hands are vehicles for transmission of Streptococcus pneumoniae in novel controlled human infection study. Eur Respir J. 2018;52(4):1800599. doi:10.1183/13993003.00599-2018

  2. Gupta A, Dhingra A. Chronic rhinotillexomania leading to unilateral external nare stenosisCureus. Published online August 21, 2018. doi:10.7759/cureus.3172

  3. Jefferson JW, Thompson TD. Rhinotillexomania: Psychiatric Disorder or Habit? J Clin Psychiatry. 1995;56(2):56-59.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Sinus pain or congestion.

  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP allergy tips.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. How to help your baby or toddler clear a stuffy nose.

  7. UnityPoint Health. Why boogers are gross but so good for your health.

  8. Nationwide Children's. Nosebleeds.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.