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Mom Was Right: Eating Your Boogers Can Have Serious Health Risks

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Feb. 13 2019, Updated 12:23 p.m. ET

According to one study, 91% of adults admitted to picking their nose regularly. So chances are, you were digging for green gold while you were reading that last sentence. But some people don't stop there. After they've had a good rummage around their nose, they'll have a little slimy snack. But as it turns out, eating your boogers could be bad for your health. 

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Business Insider reports that while a booger is mostly water and gel-like proteins, it's what your boogers are designed to prevent that could make snacking on one a bad idea. Boogers are in your nose for a reason, and that's to capture and fight off  harmful viruses that can enter the body through the nose, like influenza. 

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Boogers are the front-line of defense against invading germs, meaning that they're actually covered in all the bad stuff they captured, a little like fly paper. Eventually, air hardens the mucus into a solid booger, which is expelled when you sneeze or blow your nose, along with everything it captured, which more times than not is bacteria and other germs.

But if you for some reason stick your finger in your mouth after fishing around your nose, you're putting all those harmful bacteria and viruses straight into your stomach. And as your body digests the booger, it releases the harmful pathogens into your system. 

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Some people claim that eating your boogers can actually boost your immune system by exposing you to all of these bacteria and viruses. But generally, the risks far outweigh the potential benefits when it comes to green snacks. 

But even if you're one of us more civilised people and don't eat your boogers after picking your nose, you could still be putting yourself at risk. There's plenty of bad bacteria under your nails just waiting for you to accidentally scrape the inside of your nose and get into your body. 

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A 2006 study found that nose-pickers were more likely to have staphylococcus aureus than those who abstain. The symptoms of Staph? Abscesses or pus-filled pockets inside your nose and on your face. 

Dr. Vijay Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Colorado, told TIME that “significant infections are rare,” but added that these abscesses are not uncommon. 

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And in one case, a 53-year-old woman managed to carve a hole through her sinus with regular nose picking. Ramakrishnan explains that constant picking can wear away the mucosal lining and underlying cartilage of the septum, opening a hole. And if the sinus becomes infected, it can let bacteria get directly to the brain. 

The moral of this story? Leave your mid-afternoon snack in your nose.  

If you want to try and quit, Dr. Brett Comer, a head and neck surgeon and assistant professor of otolaryngology at the University of Kentucky, suggests putting a bandage on your digit to help catch yourself. And if you're picking because your nose feels dry and irritated, Comer recommends spritzing the insides of your nostrils with a saline spray and using a humidifier at night. Trimming nose hairs can also cut down on irritation. 

If you've already acquired a wound from picking, a little plain petroleum jelly on the irritated spot will keep the area hydrated and should aid healing. If you can leave your nose alone for a few weeks, you should beat the habit. 

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