The Dangerous Reason You Shouldn’t Pick Your Nose

Digging for gold could do more harm than good.

Handsome Boy Looking At The Camera And Picking His Nosezeljkodan/Shutterstock

No one wants to admit to nose picking, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still have this gross habit. In addition to the obvious sanitary issues, experts say digging for gold could damage your health. According to research published in the European Respiratory Journal, picking your nose could easily spread a dangerous pneumonia-causing bacteria.

Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine studied how people contract pneumonia with the help of 40 healthy volunteers. The volunteers were split into four groups and were exposed to the bacteria using different hands-to-nose methods. The new research found that pneumonia-causing bacteria can spread through picking and rubbing the nose. Science Daily notes that this is the first study showing transmission can occur from contact between the nose and hands after exposure to the bacteria, rather than just through breathing it in. These are the 12 signs your common cold could be something worse.

Plus, the study found that the bacteria spread at the same rate whether people pick their nose or simply rub it with the back of their hand. One of the lead researchers, Victoria Connor, MD, says pneumococcal infection is a major cause of death around the world. It’s responsible for an estimated 1.3 million deaths in children under five, annually, according to Dr. Connor. This infection can cause pneumonia as well as sepsis and meningitis, per the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

The results emphasize the importance of keeping good hand hygiene to avoid exposure to bacterial pathogens and various other illnesses, says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, a physician, and health expert. “Here is the takeaway—if you are guilty of having a nose-picking habit, don’t ever underestimate the potential health dangers you may actually be digging yourself into,” she says. Potential nose-picking dangers include frequent nosebleeds and recurrent respiratory infections, according to Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe. In some cases, it may also lead to nasal septum perforation or nasal vestibulitis. Next, check out the 20 things the flu virus doesn’t want you to know.

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Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.