Background: Conditions once considered bad habits are now recognized as psychiatric disorders (trichotillomania, onychopagia). We hypothesized that nose picking is another such "habit," a common benign practice in most adults but a time-consuming, socially compromising, or physically harmful condition (rhinotillexomania) in some.
Methods: We developed the Rhinotillexomania Questionnaire, mailed it to 1000 randomly selected adult residents of Dane County, Wisconsin, and requested anonymous responses. The returned questionnaires were analyzed according to age, sex, marital status, living arrangement, and educational level. Nose picking was characterized according to time involved, level of distress, location, attitudes toward self and others regarding the practice, technique, methods of disposal, reasons, complications, and associated habits and psychiatric disorders.
Results: Two hundred fifty-four subjects responded. Ninety-one percent were current nose pickers although only 75% felt "almost everyone does it"; 1.2% picked at least every hour. For 2 subjects (0.8%), nose picking caused moderate to marked interferences with daily functioning. Two subjects spent between 15 and 30 minutes and 1 over 2 hours a day picking their nose. For 2 others, perforation of the nasal septum was a complication. Associated "habits" included picking cuticles (25%), picking at skin (20%), biting fingernails (18%), and pulling out hair (6%).
Conclusion: This first population survey of nose picking suggests that it is an almost universal practice in adults but one that should not be considered pathologic for most. For some, however, the condition may meet criteria for a disorder-rhinotillexomania.