You Can Stop Worrying About Your Booger Eater

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Let’s take a Magic School Bus ride and talk about boogers. I am not nearly as wacky and fun as the Frizz, but I have a bit of science behind why you should just look the other way when your kid picks their nose and then puts their finger in their mouth. It’s gross, I know, but…

Let’s face it, there is entirely too much stigma around booger eating. In fact, if your kid (or you! No judgment here!) is a booger eater then they (you) are getting health benefits, even if they are packaged in disgusting, sticky, salty, sometimes crunchy nuggets of gold—the boogers not the kids, though kids are often packaged this way too. Just remind them to wash their hands when they are done harvesting their crop. Not only won’t boogers kill the eater, but they could make the eater healthier.

Yes, I’m serious.

First of all, boogers are dried out mucus. The mucus our body creates protects us from viruses, dust, pollen, and other stuff in our environment. This is where you envision a miniature version of yourself in a miniature yellow bus. Let’s head into a nostril. Our noses are like filters and the mucus, holding all of the irritants, gets caught in the little hairs (cilia) so that they don’t travel into our lungs. Usually if enough mucus builds up, we blow it out. If we don’t, then boogers form. This is why kids constantly have boogers just hanging out there, waiting for the satisfying pick. They don’t think to or know how to blow their noses.

Side note: Why is blowing so hard? It’s downright painful to watch my kids try to blow their noses. Close your mouth. Stop holding your breath. You’re sucking it back in! Sigh.

Anyway, back to those boogers… because they can’t blow them out, guess what happens? That’s right, they use their fingers, and I find what looks to be booger-connect-the-dot pictures on the walls next to my children’s beds. To me, this is grosser than just eating the damn things. It’s a thought-out thing they do. Lying in bed at night they pick their freaking noses and then smear it on the wall, despite having a box of tissues RIGHT NEXT to their bed. Despite me asking, demanding, and pleading with them to use a tissue. Their wall of boogers becomes a collection, something they seem to take pride in. When I see it or somehow manage to accidentally touch this creation while making their beds, I want to light a match to it. I have scraped off more boogers from walls than I ever thought could come out of a tiny human. And boogers leave stains. Underneath the picked off boogers are color variations from what used to be the original paint color.

BARF.

Okay, end rant. Let’s continue our road trip. Boogers contain salivary mucins. Mucins are the primary substance of mucus and these slippery, visco-elastic substances that cover mucosal surfaces play a key role in the non-immune protection of your mouth. A study found that salivary mucins form a barrier on your teeth that protects them from cavity causing bacteria. I don’t suggest chewing boogers as if they’re gum, but scientists are looking for a way to do just that. A synthetic mucus to match the one found in your nose could be a great addition to bubble gum, breath mints, or even toothpaste.

I want to throw the bus in reverse for a minute and remind people that if you or your kids don’t remove the boogers from your nose, they are going to travel to the stomach anyway. The stuff in our nostrils has to go somewhere, so if not out the front, then the mucus will go to the back of our nasal passage and down the throat and into our stomach. While we don’t want those irritants in our lungs, the boogers that are packed full of bacteria and good germs act as a medicine and can boost our immune system when mixed with the bacteria found in our intestines.

Based on a study coauthored by Katharina Ribbeck, a MIT biological engineering professor, Men’s Health reports, “There’s even evidence that the mucus could help prevent respiratory infection, stomach ulcers, and HIV.”

Here’s the thing: If you or your kiddo are pulling immunity-building boogers out of the nose, there is a chance you are putting bad bacteria in too. Nose pickers were found to have more Staphylococcus in their systems than non-nose pickers. Staphylococcus is the bacteria that causes staph infections. And once a kid’s finger has been in their nose, it becomes a petri dish of germs that will be spread to everything they touch. Just because our boogers can be good for us doesn’t mean they are good for everyone.

Hand washing—I know, I know, good luck with that—is key to this process. Cleaning the fingers before and then prompt cleaning after will give your kids (and you) the full benefit of booger eating. I don’t expect either to happen, to be honest. However, it’s not the end of the world if the road trip your kid’s fingers take is from nose to mouth without proper hygiene.

And if all of this is just too much then keep pushing the tissues onto your kids, but if yours are like mine, they are going to pick their nose no matter what. It’s also important to question why your kid picks their nose. Are they constantly stuffy because of untreated allergies? Are the tissues in a convenient location for them? Is this a soothing habit that reduces anxiety? Compulsive nose picking, rhinotillexomania, is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Look for patterns before you yell at your kid for something you think is disgusting.

The bus stops here, friends. We should all encourage hand washing and tissues when it comes to boogers. And if they eat them now and then? Well, so what. It sure beats finding them stuck to the bedroom walls.