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Nail biting, hair pulling, and skin picking are nervous behaviors that can develop as a response to stress or as a mindless habit. They can have far-reaching medical consequences, but treatment is available.

We are all exposed to stress at times, and we all develop coping mechanisms. Some, like jogging or talking about it, are healthy. Others, like comfort eating and emotional withdrawal, are unhealthy. Nail biting, hair pulling, and skin picking are stress-related behaviors that can easily become chronic and do a lot of damage. 

Nail Biting Or Onychophagia

Have you ever bitten your nails, cuticles, or the skin surrounding your nails when you were stressed, nervous, excited or just bored? All of these behaviors fall until nail biting, which is medically known as onychophagia. Onychophagia is the single most common nervous behavior. It affects people of all ages, and many of them aren't even aware they are doing it as they bite their nails to stumps. 

Nail biting is a bad habit, but did you know it is also listed as an impulse control disorder in the fifth editing of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)? 

Do you bite your nails, or does someone in your immediate family? It can get so bad that the biter's whole hands look like they've seen battle (and that's not far off!). In severe cases, onychophagia permanently affects the nails' regrowth and even causes deformations. Injured cuticles also let infections through really easier, all the more so because biting them will give your cuticles constant contact with your saliva. 

Nail biters or the parents of nail biters often receive advice from others on how to break the habit. Placing a substance the biter finds repulsive onto the nail surface is a common suggestion for nail-biting children. Mustard or chilly sauce are examples of things that might be used. 

Adults might receive the advice to keep their nails trimmed at all times — because that way, there is nothing left to bite off. They may also be encouraged to use anti-nail biting nail polish, a treatment that is essentially identical to placing a disgusting substance on the nails. Another tip for women is to try gel or acrylic nails, which are harder to bite. 

These suggestions can be helpful for beginning nail biters, but really determined sufferers will bite no matter what is on their nails or how long they are. I just mentioned that onychophagia appears on the DSM-5 as a legitimate disorder. That's good news, because it means behavioral therapy can help you get rid of your nasty and dangerous habit.

Look into a therapy called Habit Reversal Training if you are a chronic biter and your habit is affecting your health negatively. If you think you're a mild case, you can try the "disgusting nails" treatment or try gel nails first.

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