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Nail-biting (onychophagia) is a common
stress-relieving habit. You may bite your nails in times of stress or
excitement, or in times of boredom or inactivity. It can also be a learned
behavior from family members. Nail-biting is the most common of the typical
"nervous habits," which include thumb-sucking, nose-picking, hair-twisting or
-pulling, tooth-grinding, and picking at skin.
You may bite your
nails without realizing you are doing it. You might be involved in another
activity, such as reading, watching television, or talking on the phone, and
bite your nails without thinking about it.
biting the cuticle and soft tissue surrounding the nail as well as biting the
People of all ages bite
Nail-biting may occur with other body-focused repetitive
behaviors (BFRB) such as hair-pulling or skin-picking.
Several treatment measures may help you stop biting your nails. Some
focus on behavior changes and some focus on physical barriers to
Children may bite their nails more often when they are
having problems at school or with friends. Talk with your child or his or her
teacher about any new stress at school. Children are more likely to stop biting
their nails when they understand what may trigger it. It is also important for
your child to help choose a treatment method so he or she can use the treatment
Nail-biting can cause your fingertips to be red and sore and your
cuticles to bleed. Nail-biting also increases your risk for infections around
your nail beds and in your mouth.
Long-term nail-biting can also
interfere with normal nail growth and cause deformed nails.
In rare cases, nail-biting may be a symptom of
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD symptoms are
usually treated with medicines.
October 7, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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