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Nail biting (onychophagia): how to stop?

Nail biting (onychophagia): how to stop?

The act of biting the nails or “onychophagia” is a frequent behavior in pre-adolescents, even if it can concern children from the age of 3 years and certain adults. This mania is generally linked to stress, boredom or intense concentration. Tips for quitting.

Onychophagy is a compulsive attitude consisting in biting your nails. Often caused by stress and anxiety it becomes a common habit and often without gravity. A third of French people would be affected by this mania, most often in a mild form. The rarer cases of severe forms would affect less than 1% of the population, especially children and adolescents. Even if its consequences are most often aesthetic, there is a infectious risk not negligible.

The causes of onychophagia are variable, but in general it is a situation of stress or concentration. This can be the case at work, in personal life or even during a smoking cessation. The importance of these different reasons varies greatly according to sex and age. In children and adolescents, this habit can be acquired by observing loved ones, whether at home or at school.

Onychophagia is most often benign but can cause micro skin lesions that can lead to local infections, especially when the nail is bitten to the root of the phalanges. Above all, it has social repercussions because those affected have struggling to take on damaged hands, which can result in aggressive behavior or one isolation from the outside world, reinforced by the difficulty in stopping. People who bite their nails are often very anxious, shy and introverted.

Children being the most affected (25% of pre-teens), it is necessary to encourage them to stop, even if, in most cases, they get rid of this habit in adulthood. However, you must be careful not to put any pressure on them. Indeed, it would lead to the opposite result and they would become even more obsessed with their nails. To encourage them to stop, if you have the same problem, take the opportunity to also show them your progress. Otherwise, take care of congratulate them when they succeed. Born not scold them if they can’t, but give them a exposed reasons why they should stop (it’s not clean, it’s not beautiful …). For pre-teens, insist on the aesthetic side if they pay attention.

In general, just follow the following rules to get rid of this mania:

  • Never bite your nails, even to cut them. It brings back the bad habit.
  • Hydrate your hands regularly. Indeed, it is not pleasant to wear greasy hands to the mouth. This can eventually disgust you with your mania.
  • Apply bitter nail polish (available in pharmacies). This clear and very strong varnish will leave you with an unpleasant taste in the mouth and should prompt you to stop biting your nails quickly.
  • Chewing gum will keep your mouth occupied and avoid nibbling your nails. You can also adopt an alternative gesture, for example fiddling with your hair or your pen, or use an anti-stress ball …
  • Putting a bandage on the gnawed nail is unattractive, but this will avoid gnawing it further, and risk infection.
  • Make a nice manicure, wear a beautiful varnish or, more radical, false nails, can also dissuade you for a time.
  • Start by filing them well to avoid the temptation to equalize a sticky nail with your teeth.
  • If nothing works, don’t hesitate to talk to your general practitioner or participate in group behavior therapy to learn how to manage your stress.
  • It is also recommended to practice a sporting activity to channel aggressiveness and anxiety. Activities such as sophrology, hypnosis, meditation or yoga can help you relax and no longer put stress on your nails.

If you cannot manage to overcome your onychophagia, perhaps it is better to speak with your doctor or your dermatologist. A consultation with a psychiatrist and / or a psychologist can also be useful to understand what is hidden behind your stress.

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