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Are You A Nail Biter? It Can Be A Dangerous Habit

Added November 10, 2018, Under: Diseases, Health, How To

Many of us get into the habit of chewing on our fingernails as children.

But is it a bad thing?

One man who had been a nail biter all his life, ended up with life-threatening sepsis.

57 year old grandfather, Ricky Kennedy of Scotland, had a close call with sepsis after a life-long habit of nail-biting suddenly caught up with him.

Ricky had accidentally damaged his nail bed with nail-biting – and noticed a blister starting to form on his thumb. What at first seemed harmless, landed him in hospital for months, fighting for his life.

He said: “I had bitten my nail like that hundreds of times before so to think it almost killed me is terrifying. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t move. I thought I was having a heart attack and I really did think I was going to die.”

And he was not the only one.  The same happened to Luke Hanoman, a 28-year-old warehouse operator and father of two who had a nervous habit of biting his nails. After chewing down on the skin lining the side of his nail recently, he suddenly started to have flu-like symptoms but when his  fingers swelled up with unbearable throbbing, and he could no longer focus, his family knew something was seriously wrong.

What is sepsis?

If sepsis is diagnosed, it is considered to be a medical emergency.

Sepsis is a general term to describe an immune system response to an infection, meaning that a viral, fungal or bacterial infection of the lungs (pneumonia), kidneys, bloodstream (bacteriemia) or abdomen can lead to sepsis and be potentially life-threatening.  There are three stages of sepsis…

  • Sepsis is the mildest stage of the infection.
  • Severe sepsis occurs in the second stage.
  • Septic shock occurs in the final stage.

You can find out more about sepsis here.

Why are nail biters at risk?

The crevice between your nails and fingers is a breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella and E.coli.  Habitual nail biters often bite down on the skin around their fingers leaving open wounds to pick up more bacteria. The bacteria buildup in these wounds leave nail biters susceptible to contracting infections

In addition, repeated nail biting can make the skin around your nails feel sore and it can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails.

How can you stop the nail biting?

This is not always easy – and of course different methods will suit different nail biters.

But here are some tried and tested suggestions:

  • Keep your nails trimmed short:  less nail means less to bite and less temptation.

  • Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails:  available over-the-counter, this safe but really unpleasant-tasting formula discourages many people from biting their nails.
  • Get regular manicures:  some nail biters find that spending money to keep their nails looking attractive may make them less likely to bite them.  Although gel nails can be a long term health hazard, getting them as a temporary solution for a month might be an idea – bearing in mind that some nail biters have seriously damaged their teeth trying to chew on gel nails.  Another suggestion is to cover the nails with tape or stickers or to wear gloves.  Desperate times can need desperate measures!
  • Replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit:  when the urge arises, try playing with a stress ball or silly putty instead to keep your hands busy and away from your mouth.

  • Identify your triggers:  these could be physical triggers such as the presence of hangnails or other triggers such as boredom, stress or anxiety.  Work out what causes you to bite your nails and you might work out the solution, developing a plan to stop.
  • Try to gradually stop biting your nails:  some doctors recommend taking a gradual approach to break the habit. Try to stop biting one set of nails, such as your thumb nails, first. When that’s successful, eliminate your pinky nails, pointer nails or even an entire hand. The goal is to get to the point where you no longer bite any of your nails.

For some, nail biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological or emotional problem. 

Have you been trying to give up over and over again?  You might need to consult a doctor.

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