Why does my child pick his nose?

Concerned Mother

There are many reasons why a child might pick his nose.

Sometimes it’s allergies. With allergies, the nose may itch, and it is relieving to scratch the itch by picking the nose. If you notice sneezing, congestion, watery eyes or clear nasal drainage, a trial with an oral antihistamine for one week would be reasonable.

Sometimes it’s an infection. The front of the nose has glands susceptible to infection. If the nostrils are red, a brief trial of applying an antibiotic ointment inside the nostrils may help.

Sometimes it’s a foreign body. Kids love to stick objects into their nose and ears. If only one nostril is constantly picked, is red or drains infected mucus, the nose should be examined.

Sometimes it’s dryness. The protein portion of nasal mucus will form a crust and block airflow. Picking the nose opens the obstruction. Alternatively improving hydration, using a humidifier, adding a saline mist or saline gel, or reducing an antihistamine may help.

Sometimes it’s fun. Children will frequently develop a habit. They might continue this habit even more if they can provoke a response from adults during a dinner party or on the front row at church. Gentle correction but not overreaction is indicated. Much like socially discouraged behaviors like thumb-sucking, active burping and loud flatus, peer socialization seems to remarkably reduce frequency of nose picking from the start of elementary school compared with the start of middle school.

Gregory Osetinsky, MD, is an Otolaryngologist at Kentucky Ear, Nose and Throat – A part of Lexington Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky.  For more information about Kentucky Ear, Nose and Throat call 859.278.1114 or visit

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