Why do we pick our noses?

20 November 2017

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Question

Why am I unable to stop digging my nose? What is it that makes it so satisfying and addictive? And why do some other people eat what comes out?

Answer

Lewis - Well Patrick, you’ve really got us baffled by bogies. None of the behaviour our evolution experts we contacted wanted to touch such a sticky question. Luckily, Liverpool GP, Dr Laura Wark knows a few things about noses…

Laura - Our noses have two main functions: firstly to improve the quality of air we breath in on it’s journey to our lungs, and secondly to house receptors that provide our sense of smell. Air is filtered, humidified, and warmed on its journey through the nose. Airborne particles are trapped by hairs and the paranasal sinuses produce mucus to keep the nasal cavity moist. Both of these contribute to the buildup of debris in the nose - or snot.

Lewis - Okay. So now we know what the nose does, but what is it that makes Patrick so eager to go digging for gold.

Laura - There isn’t much research into why we pick our noses, but nose picking is common practice amongst most kids and adults. In a 1995 study of 254 people in Wisconsin, 91% admitted to being current nose pickers. Practical reasons may be relieving an itch, or removing nasal obstructions which can affect breathing and smell. However, as 12% of teenagers in an Indian study of adolescent nose pickers pointed out -  many people do it just because it feels good.

Although considered an habitual habit in most cases, similar to nail biting for example, extreme nose picking may be considered pathological if it becomes obsessive -  medical condition branded “rhinotillexomania,” and picking isn’t without it’s risks. Over-picking can result in septal perforation and the nasal carriage of the bacteria Staphylococcus Aureus is increased in those that enjoy a regular rummage.

Lewis - What about those people who love munching on their mucus?

Laura - A Canadian biochemist has recently hypothesised that the nasal mucus has a sweet taste which may encourage its owner to eat it, thereby introducing pathogens into the body and bolstering the immune system. However, this theory has been refuted by other scientists who point out that humans swallow around a litre of nasal secretions a day anyway, so snapping on snot wouldn’t confer any additional benefit.

Lewis - Thanks Laura; you really ‘blew us’ away.

Next week we’ll be tackling this rocket riddle from Anthony…

Would a rocket launched from a tube, like a bullet from a rifle barrel, be assisted or hindered by that?

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