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Nail Biting

Nail biting is an irritating habit that is very common in children and occasionally in adults. Nail biting includes biting the cuticle and the soft tissue around the nail, as well as the nail itself. Though it is neither a serious disorder, nor a health risk, most people who still do it, or more often whose children do it, will be more than glad to get rid of it – once and forever. For children it can be expected that as they grow up they will stop biting their nails naturally but for adults, who still bite their nails subconsciously, a natural way to stop is less probable.

Nail biting, or onychophagia is a typical “nervous habit”. Other nervous habits include activities like hair-twisting and pulling, thumb-sucking, nose picking, picking at skin, etc. Nail biting is a stress-reliever and probably because of that even people over 30 still do it. Nail biting alone is not a health danger, though if your hands and nails are dirty there is a risk of infection – both for the nails themselves and for the mouth. For ladies there is one more unpleasant side-effect – you risk never to have a beautiful manicure.

Not all biters are the same – some do it all the time, others do it only occasionally; some stop at once, others stop temporarily and after some time they resume it. The worst is that nail biting occurs spontaneously and subconsciously, so it is more difficult to control it. The good news is that there are many psychological and medical ways to remind yourself or your children that nail biting is not something nice. The next articles describe the ways to deal with nail biting in children and in adults.

As already mentioned, nail biting is a nervous habit, so instead of trying to eliminate the consequences, it is better to start with the reasons for it. And the reasons are similar in both adults and children – stress, nervousness, lack of other activity. In some cases nail biting in adults can start after you have stopped smoking and are looking for a replacement activity that keeps you occupied. In both adults and children nail biting occurs mainly while you are doing something else – reading a book, watching television, or even while playing – and your hands are not occupied. Another reason for nail biting is that it is hereditary – i.e. your parents did it and you have learned it from them.

Stress or anxiety is the most common reason for nail biting. Even children at the age of 3 or 4 feel stress, so it is not wonder that they bite their nails. Most often as the child grows, nail biting stops but still about half of the children between 10 and 18 bite their nails. This can be explained with the transformations of puberty. In the age group 18-22 the percentage of nail biters drops in half and around 30 most people quit nail biting. However, there is about 10 percent of men over 30, who still bite their nails.

One interesting fact is that for people over 10, it is mostly males that bite their nails. Probably the reason for this is that when girls grow and they start using nail polish, this has a stop effect for them. Well, it does not mean that ladies do not bite their polished nails but since that is less frequent, it can be concluded that nail biting can be stopped by nail polishing or other means of intervention.

In extremely rare cases nail biting can get very aggressive and nail biters actually hurt themselves. Normally, when one sees his or her fingers bleeding, he or she stops immediately. Also, when the nails are painful because of nail biting, the most natural step is to give them some rest – i.e. even if you feel like biting your nails, the pain of doing it prevents you from doing it. And if in such cases you manage to find a substitute, chances are that you will get rid of this extremely unpleasant habit.

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