There’s no use denying it, admit it. Whether we’re in the company of someone we’re intimate with or we think no one is looking, we all at some point put our finger on our nose. And we’re not alone: other primates do it too.
The social stigma around nose picking is pervasive. But should we be doing this? And what should we do with the snot afterwards?
We’re scientists researching environmental contaminants—in our homes, work environments, and gardens—so we have some knowledge of where we’re really getting into when we pick our noses.
Here’s what you need to know before you decide to “clean the salon”.
What’s in the slime?
Putting your finger on your nose is a completely natural habit: children who haven’t yet learned social norms soon realize that the fit between the index finger and the nostril is very good. But there’s a lot more than just booger up there.
During the approximately 22,000 daily breathing cycles, the mucus that forms the snot acts as a key biological filter to capture dust and allergens before they enter our airways, where they can cause inflammation, asthma, and other long-term lung problems.
Cells in the nasal cavity, called goblet cells (because of their goblet-shaped appearance), generate mucus to trap viruses, bacteria, and dust containing potentially harmful substances such as lead, asbestos, and pollen.
Nasal mucus, along with its antibodies and enzymes, are the front line of the body’s immune system to defend against infections.
The nasal cavity also has its own microbiome. Sometimes these natural populations can be disturbed, which causes various conditions such as rhinitis.
But in general, the microbes in our nose help repel invaders, fighting them on a mucus battleground.
Dust, microbes and allergens trapped in the mucus end up being ingested as this mucus runs down our throats.
This is not usually a problem, but it can exacerbate environmental exposure to some contaminants.
For example, lead — a neurotoxin found in house dust and garden soil — enters children’s bodies most efficiently through ingestion and digestion.
Therefore, exposure to certain environmental toxins can worsen if you aspirate or consume mucus rather than blowing your nose.
What does the science say about the risks of taking off snot?
The golden staphylococcus (Staphylococcus aureussometimes abbreviated as S. aureus) is a germ that can cause a variety of mild or severe infections. Studies show that it is often found in the nose (this is called nasal transport).
Research has found that putting your finger in your nose is associated with nasal transport of S. aureus –, which may be the cause of it in certain cases. And he concluded that overcoming the habit of picking the nose can help in the decolonization strategies of the S. aureus.
Snot picking may also be associated with a higher risk of transmission of golden staph to wounds, where it poses a more serious risk.
And sometimes antibiotics don’t work with golden staph.
A recent article noted that “increasing antibiotic resistance requires healthcare professionals to assess patients’ nose-picking habits and educate them on effective ways to prevent such practices.”
Snot-picking can also be a vehicle for the transmission of Streptococcus pneumoniaea common cause of pneumonia among other infections.
In other words, sticking your finger up your nose is a great way to introduce more germs into your body or to spread them around with your dirty finger.
In addition, there is a risk of producing scratches and abrasions inside the nostrils, which can allow pathogenic bacteria to invade your body.
Compulsively picking your nose to the point of self-injury is called rhinotilexomania.
I got the snot, now what?
Some people eat the snot (the technical term is mucophagia, which means “mucus feeding”).
As well as being a disgusting habit, it involves ingesting all those inhaled germs linked to mucus, toxic metals, and environmental contaminants we mentioned earlier.
Others wipe the snot off the nearest object, leaving a small gift for someone else to discover later. A disgusting way to spread germs.
There are much more hygienic people who use a tissue to do the extraction and then simply throw it in the trash or the toilet.
This is probably one of the least worst options if you really need to clean the salon.
Just be sure to wash your hands very carefully after blowing or picking your nose, as until the mucus is completely dry, infectious viruses can remain on your hands and fingers.
nothing will stop you
Whether hidden, in the car or on napkins, we all do it. And truth be told, it’s very satisfying.
But let us honor the tireless work done by our extraordinary noses, mucous membranes and nasal cavities – such amazing biological adaptations – and remember that they are going out of their way to protect us.
Our noses work overtime to keep us healthy, so let’s not make their job any more difficult by sticking our dirty fingers in there.
And if you do end up giving in to temptation, do yourself a favor: blow your nose discreetly, dispose of the tissue carefully, and wash your hands afterwards.
* Mark Patrick Taylor is Chief Environmental Scientist, EPA Victoria; honorary professor, Macquarie University, Australia.
This article was originally published on the academic news site The Conversation and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Read the original version here (in English).
This text was originally published here
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