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Chewing your fingernails: Just stress or behavioral disorder?

Whether under tension or out of boredom: chewing or biting your fingernails (Onychophagia) is an annoying habit for many. The nail is often chewed down to the sole of the nail or nibbled on the skin of the fingertips.

Besides unsightly hands, constant chewing can also lead to bacterial or viral inflammation lead.

The habit is particularly common among children and adolescents. Often the behaviour disappears with time and there is no reason to worry. Sometimes, however, nail biting becomes chronic and persists into adulthood or is made worse by other habits, such as Smoking, chewing gum or nibbling on pens, replaced

Causes of fingernail biting

The causes are individually different. For most people, nail-biting is a harmless balancing mechanism for example, during stress. But also a serious psychological distress can be responsible for this. In patients who suffer from extremely severe fingernail biting, it is sometimes even possible to suffer from a mental disorder with tendency to self-harm (Autoaggression) speak.

Most often, fingernail biting occurs in connection with Tension, stress, frustration, or boredom on. The affected persons cannot then deal with these feelings appropriately. Strong nail biting, on the other hand, is more likely to be a symptom of mental illness. Then the following disorders can be the reason for the habit:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Tic disturbances
  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

But also bad models can ensure, especially with children, that the Behavior is copied. Overanxious children, who often also have other habitual behaviours, such as Teeth grinding or finger-cracking are particularly susceptible.

Possible consequences of fingernail biting

What can happen if you chew your fingernails too intensively?

Nail bed inflammation

The nail bed is the tissue under the fingernail. Inflammation is caused by the enormous reduction of the fingernail, which leads to damage and exposure of the underlying sensitive skin and the nail bed. The consequences can include injuries, which fungus formation under and on the nail and a Spread of warts be.

This often results in redness and/or itching. The infected skin areas can feel noticeably hot. This is caused by the pulse rate of the small blood vessels and the resulting temporary increase in pressure in the inflamed tissue.

The nail bed inflammation is usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics. In most cases an inflammation heals without permanent damage.

Problems for the teeth

Biting your fingernails can also be harmful to your teeth. Long-term nail biting can lead to inflammation of the gums, malposition of the teeth or jaw pain lead.

Stomach problems

People who chew nails usually swallow the remains. Since the bitten nails are not digested, it can lead to stomach pain and digestive problems come. Chewing can also allow bacteria to enter the mouth and stomach.

Psychological consequences

Intensive nail biting can also have negative effects on the psyche. Fingernails are considered the "business card" of the human being. Therefore, the unattractive appearance of the fingernails can make people feel so uncomfortable that they try to hide their hands. In the worst case, this shame can lead to people no longer want to participate in social life.

When should one go to the doctor?

If the affected persons do not injure themselves by biting their fingernails and inflammation occurs, there is no urgent need for action. Children in particular usually stop biting their nails by themselves at some point. However, if you have any injuries, you should consult a doctorwho also has therapeutic interventions who can inform people who are trying to stop biting their fingernails.

Tips against nail biting

Whether annoying habit or torture - to bite your fingernails is a learned behavior. So it is also possible to get out of the habit again or at least reduce or soften it:

These tips can help with light nibbling:

  • Short nails offer less surface to bite on. Regular cutting and filing can avoid corners and edges that might tempt you to chew.
  • Identify triggersFind out in which situations you chew the most. Just knowing can sometimes help.
  • Replace habitFor example, a stress ball, chewing gum or other distractions may help to reduce nail biting.
  • Bitter tasting nail polishTo make nibbling more unpleasant, you can use bitter tasting nail polish, which can be bought in most pharmacies.

Anyone who chews their fingernails severely or has recognised a connection with a mental disorder should have a Behavioural Therapy think. Also different Relaxation techniques can combat the causes and thus also the compulsive behavior turn it off.