What does it mean when someone bites the skin around his or her nails? Is it healthy to chew or eat the dead skin after peeling off the fingertips? Here are the causes or reasons why you biting or keep biting it and how to stop it.
Signs and symptoms
Common signs/symptoms may include the following.
- Dry skin around nails including the cuticles.
- Pain around the fingernails
- Sometimes bleeding can occur especially if biting is excessive
- Sudden change in behavior
- Signs of depressions may also be read from the sufferers
Symptoms may vary with the triggers such as stress or level of anxiety.
Reasons or causes
Biting the skin around fingernails can manifest itself in a repetitive manner or as an occasional thing. Read on to get an understanding of the reasons for doing this.
Dermatophagia is a behavior disorder where the sufferer excessively bites or literally chews parts of their skin.
According to studies, this is a mental condition linked to an obsessive-compulsive disorder or genetics. It is either a habit or compulsion, therefore, sufferers may bite their own skin consciously or subconsciously.
People with this disorder not only bite or chew the fingers but also go on to do so on other skin areas such as the joints, inside the mouth or cheeks.
Signs of dermatophagia
These are some of the signs.
- Bleeding from the affected or bitten skin
- Formation of calluses
- The skin around the chewed fingers may start to get discolored
Individuals who have dermatophagia get relief out of biting and chewing the skin
Treatment – Therapy /medicines
Since this is more of a mental disorder, therapists aim at treating the disorder through psychological processes. These include both cognitive (thinking) and behavior change.
Sometimes, medications can also be prescribed after consulting a professional. In many cases, drugs called antidepressants have been used. According to studies, “Patients with BFRBs might spend an hour or more a day picking, pulling, biting or thinking about it.” [health.usnews.com]
2. Body-focused repetitive behavior – BFRB
A body-focused repetitive behavior is a group of disorders with compulsive (without one’s will) urges to do or engage in a behavior.
- Notably, people who are diagnosed with compulsive skin picking may have a related obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Unfortunately, once the person gets sufferer and gets into the habit (i.e. skin picking or biting, or chewing, peeling, picking, etc.), they will continue to do so in order to find a way to relieving themselves
Onychophagia (compulsive nail biting) is one of the common BFRBs. When people bite their nails out of their own will, it is considered a compulsive disorder.
Nail biting of this kind can be painful and may lead to infections.
Rhinotillexomania or compulsive behavior
This disorder is quite common for both children and adults. When done continuously, this kind of nose picking can lead to serious nose damage.
Additionally, rhinotillexomania is a risk factor for nose infections.
Skin biting or picking disorder – dermatillomania
Moving on, suffering this disorder is another reason for some people who pick at, peel or bite the skin around the nails.
Dermatillomania is a compulsive skin picking disorder which “manifests by an overwhelming urge to pick at one’s own skin to the extent that damage is caused.” [www.skinpickingsupport.com]
One of the characteristics of this compulsive disorder is the formation of lesions after skin picking. Hangnails and bleeding fingernails are other signs.
Some of the symptoms on the individual psychology is low self-esteem, depression and panic attacks.
The rest of the symptoms can be revealed after the disorder is diagnosed.
- Scab eating disorder
Studies have shown that anxiety can be associated with certain compulsive skin disorders such as dermatillomania. Dermatillomania is the medical term for skin picking disorder in which a sufferer cause damage to his or her own skin.
“It is very well likely that I started my habit of finger-picking when my parents split as a way to take out my anxiety. I’ve never been very vocal about my emotions and so that was a way to get them out. I’ve continued this horrible habit, and now I am 26 and still find myself picking in stressful situations.” [Source: healdove.com]
4.Dry skin around nails
Having dry skin around the nails causes peeling of the cuticle. Consequently, this may influence biting or picking to remove the peelings.
The best way to deal with biting due to dry skin is to address dryness in various treatments. If you have chronic symptoms, see a dermatologist or physician who has to look into it.
How to stop biting skin around the nails
What can you use or do to stop habitual skin biting around nails?
Besides getting medication to lower your anxiety levels, these are some of the simple but clever things to observe and follow if you want to stop biting your nails and fingers.
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy – CBT
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a structured system with sessions in which a mental health counsellor talks to a sufferer with a mental disorder.
CBT sessions are mainly meant for helping one with a mental-related disorder to “become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.” [www.mayoclinic.org]
Disorders which may suit cognitive behavioral therapy include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
2. Habit Reversal Therapy – HRT
HRT is a cognitive-behavioral intervention that is commonly used to treat disorders involving repetitive, body-focused, and/or habitual behaviors associated with distress or functional impairment…” [www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
This therapy is looked at as an intervention where a therapist talks to a sufferer to help them manage such disorders by altering their thinking and behavior. This therapy (HRT) has treatment components as follows.
- Awareness training
- Competing for response training
- Social support and behavioral reward systems
3. Cover your fingers and nails
Whether you bite unconsciously or not, placing some kind of covering over the nails can reduce the probability to keep on biting the skin around nails or the nails themselves.
4. Have someone or something special to keep on reminding
Having friends or family members around you especially the time when you are anxious can also be a helpful remedy. Sometimes friends who are honest will point out and this can be good for purposes of just reminding. This may be more beneficial for those who do it almost consciously or have found themselves habitually biting.
Alternatively, you can set your alarms in a unique way so that when you are at the place where you are likely to start biting, the alarms serve the purpose – to stop thinking of doing it.
5. Try keeping both hands and mouth busy
You are more likely to continue to bite your nails if you are idle or have nothing to do. First, pay attention to the places or things that are likely the triggers for the problem.
Then try doing the following.
- Take that specific time that you find yourself want to bite talking to friends or family members
- Do knitting, crocheting or solve some word or Sudoku puzzles
- Chew gums as you knit or while doing some writing
- Cooking or just helping out someone in the kitchen
- Ask your nail care specialist for an appropriate nail treatment which can help you reduce nail-biting by discouraging it
6. Other ways
- Use of mouth guards
- Bitter nail polishes
- Foul-smelling nail treatments
Like we stated if the problem is linked to disorder or mental problems you may find doing this quite ridiculous. Therefore, there is still need to talk to a psychologist or therapist.
Some of the remedies whereby you place something with an unpleasant taste are potentially dangerous.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that if you have or suffer from a mental-related disorder which causes you to bite and chew compulsively, these may not be appropriate.
Cures or treatments
These may include the following.
Use of depressants is a possible way of stopping nail biting, skin picking or finger chewing especially for individuals who habitually get anxious or have anxiety disorders.
2. Nail manicure and health care for nails
Getting treatment for your nails is another cure for this problem. A good manicure, for instance, is one where you get your nails done by a professional. This can discourage you from biting which can mess up with a touch of beauty.
For those who have dry skin around nails, cuticles or cracks around the fingertips. Another thing to do is keep your nails in great condition by getting a manicure. Try hydrating the skin around the nails by applying a hand moisturizer or oil.
Learn to trim your nails when you feel that they have started to grow or when you get the urge to bite.
Risks or effects
What happens if you don’t stop biting the skin around nails?
a.) Acute paronychia
Acute paronychia “appears as a sudden, very painful area of swelling, warmth and redness around a fingernail or toenail, usually after an injury to the area.” [www.drugs.com]
Most cases of acute paronychia are attributed to secondary infection after biting or chewing which causes the damage to the cuticle or skin around the fingers.
b.) Discoloration of skin around fingers
Discoloration is another effect of the excessive or compulsive nail or finger chewing. This could occur over time.
c.) Dental and oral problems
First, you may have problems with the front teeth alignment in terms of position. One can also end up with poorly-shaped teeth especially for those individuals who bite their nails and skin.
Secondly, you run a greater risk of gum disease.
d.) Chronic dry cuticles or skin around nail
Chronic dry skin does not heal easily and can predispose the sufferer to secondary infections.
When to seek medical attention
If you continue biting skin off your fingers after trying a suitable remedy for treating dry skin, you should seek help from a specialist or therapist.
You must see a doctor when there is the throbbing pain, bleeding, and formation of painful sores or lesions.
References and Citations:
- Reducing Skin Picking via Competing Activities. Kathleen Lynne Lane, Ada Thompson, Cara L Reske, Lauren M Gable, Sally Barton-Arwood. J Appl Behav Anal. 2006 Winter; 39(4): 459–462. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2006.62-05 PMCID: PMC1702340
- How to stop body-focused repetitive behaviors