Nails and Cuticle Picking

nails cuticles picking

The symptoms of nail biting and cuticle picking

Behaviors involving picking are not limited to merely the skin and scalp. Biting and picking nails on the hands and feet fall into this same realm of bad habits that are out of control. Cuticle picking is included, too. Onychophagia, as the syndrome is known medically, involves the repetitive biting, chewing, and picking of one’s fingernails and the cuticles around them. It is a bit of a stretch of the imagination for some to imagine but the problem includes biting the toenails, too, sometimes. When a finger- or toenail becomes chipped, split, or broken during the normal course of daily activities, it is almost impossible to ignore, even for the most strong-willed of people. Indeed, these damaged nails seem to catch and snag on anything within the near vicinity and quick repair is almost always needed to carry on with one’s activities. Our bodies are changing all the time and routine maintenance and repair is a healthy, normal, and commendable practice. The problem occurs, however, when the biting and picking continue long after the repair is complete.

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Hangnails are distended pieces of skin cuticles that become broken and loose, often catching painfully on any object touched. Nail clips and tweezers can often remove the hangnails rather painlessly and allow for quick healing. The person suffering from the OCD level of onychopagia will often continue picking or biting the area around the hangnail until the skin along the nail is even more damaged, sometimes bleeding. This freshly damaged skin leads to the urge to pick, chew, or bite even more.

When treatment is needed

The tendency to bite one’s nails or pick at one’s cuticles is often considered a normal phase of growing up. Indeed, almost one-third of all children ages 7 to 10 go through a period of nail biting or picking. Puberty seems to increase the prevalence of picking nails as well as biting them. It is believed that almost half of all adolescents exhibit this behavior at one time or another during this very confusing and stress-provoking period of life. Most people grow out of nail biting and cuticle picking by the time they reach adulthood. Perhaps coping skills are better honed and people become more comfortable with their inherent nature by this time. Some statistics indicate only about 5% of the mature population is involved with this behavior. Indicators of trouble, however, occur at any age when the nail biting or cuticle picking reaches the point of pain and visible damage. Gone too far, the habit becomes a manifestation of self-mutilating tendencies that are probably accompanied by feelings of low self-esteem and diminished confidence. As with other behaviors falling under the OCD category, excessive picking and biting of nails and cuticles alike can indicate deep inner emotional conflict. The inner turmoil may be a result of a more sinister condition that demands medical attention.

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