The truth behind biting of fingernails

Do you bite your nails often? Well, I do or should I say I used to.

Nail biting is simply the act of biting off your nails from the fingers. People also go on to bite their fingertips.When this habitual act becomes chronic, it becomes a medical condition known as Onychophagia. This is described as an oral compulsive act and a parafunctional activity since it deviates from the known functions of the human mouth specifically talking, feeding and drinking.

Most people regard this as a normal habit while the concerned population regard it as a bad act. The American Psychological Association (APA) categorized onychophagia as an obsessive compulsive disorder alongside with other types of pathological grooming.

Now I know you are wondering what those previously mentioned terms mean.

An obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is simply an anxiety disorder displayed by recurrent thoughts and feelings as well as repetitive behaviours. For example ,I have a friend who can't stop cleaning his feet every 5 minutes. He claims it is always dirty despite the fact that he baths more than 6 times a day. He is obsessed with the cleanliness of his feet. Even in the classroom, he carries a liquid detergent along to keep cleaning it with different tissues.

Pathological grooming involves disorders that are characterized by intentional and repetitive activities which always ends up causing harm to the practitioner.

Examples are nail biting, hair pulling and skin picking.

 

The truth is that these habits are not supposed to be practiced. Nail biting begins from childhood and usually heightens during the adolescent stage. It usually reduces as one grows but reports states that it may continue through adulthood.

Symptoms of Nail biting

The most common symptoms include:

  • Hangnails which are irregular pieces of skin that becomes exposed around the sides of the fingernails.
  • Bleeding of soft tissues around the finger and fingernails
  • Very short fingernails
  • Uncontrolled compulsive biting of the nails
  • Damaged skin around fingernails and fingertips
  • Feeling of pain around the fingernails.

Causes

Now that we know what onychophagia and its accompanying symptoms are. Let's look into the causes as well.

Most people hypothesize that it might be due to a genetic factor but that hasn't been truly confirmed. Below are few causes that we are certain of.

Perfectionism

Individuals who have fixated their goals on being perfectionists have a thing for nail thing. They tend to spend great amount of time trying to correct certain irregularities they have noticed in their nails and are not comfortable with.

Boredom

Other group of individuals engage in nail biting when they are bored of their environment or whatever situation they find themselves in.

Oral Fixation

For some,this habit is due to the constant urge to keep something in their mouth. Some of these group of individuals also can be seen chewing anything they can get their hands on ranging from plastics to paper. This behaviour itself has been explained to be the result of failed mother-child bonding.

E.g. in early infancy where some mothers neglect the need to breastfeed their infants when they might be truly hungry.

Stress

Other researchers have realized that when people deal with stressful circumstances, they are forced to engage in nail biting since it seems to lower the tension upon them.

Consequences

People with Onychophagia should seek early help since this can be a source for many infections. There are dirt particles which might be stuck under the fingernails containing pathogens that may cause serious complications when swallowed.

One may also chip his or her teeth in the process.

How to stop this habit

  • Get in touch with a support group of individuals who have overcome this habit
  • Always keep your nails short
  • Coat your fingernails with bitter polish.
  • You can also wear gloves to prevent biting.
  • Identify what causes you to bite your nails and then find a way to avoid those factors.
  • Try getting regular manicures.
  • If the above fail,you should seek treatment from a behavioural therapist or capable psychologist.

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