Nervous habit causes health problems, spreads germs

For some Baker students, nail biting is a way to calm nerves or pass the time, but it also wreaks havoc on the biters’ nails and increases risk of infection.

Nail biting is one of the most common nervous habits and affects people of all ages. This tendency also includes biting the skin around the nail or the cuticle.

It is especially common during adolescence, and usually is overcome by the time the person is 30. Beyond the age of 10, studies show that boys are more likely to bite their nails than girls.

Kaitlin Emig, coordinator for service-learning and volunteering, said nail biting is one of her biggest pet peeves.

“Nail biting bothers me because people have germs on their hands, and then they put them in their mouth,” she said.

Emig said nail biting contributes to the spreading of germs because once a person has put their fingers in their mouths, they then spread their germs from their mouth to whoever or whatever they touch next.

She admits to being a slight “germaphobe,” but tries to be polite around people who are biting their nails.

“I try to ignore it to the best of my ability,” Emig said. “If it is a friend or a family member, I might pull their hand away from their mouth or tell them how much it bothers me.”

Emig’s fears are not too far off base. In fact, habitual nail biters are at a higher risk of getting an infection around their nails or in their mouths. Nail biting also can interfere with normal nail growth and cause deformation.

Freshman Sierra Ronhovde said she cannot remember a time when she did not bite her nails. She said it is a totally unconscious habit.

“When I am writing an essay is one time that I really notice I am doing it, but it is not because I am stressed,” Ronhovde said.

Senior Luke Bowerman started biting his nails and his cuticles a lot during high school.

“My parents were always telling me to keep my fingers out of my mouth,” he said. 

He knows this habit can lead to infections such as pink eye or the flu, but said he washes his hands a lot during the day.

“Honestly, I bite my nails because I lose my clippers and my nails start to grow really long,” he said.

People can kick the habit of nail biting in multiple ways. One way is trimming and filing nails regularly. Increasing the time spent caring for nails can decrease the impulse to destroy them.

Other ideas include painting finger nails with a bitter tasting polish or finding other stress-management techniques. 

Junior Olivia Hernandez recently has stopped biting her nails and is letting them grow out. She said she usually bites her nails if she is bored or stressed out.

“It is such a stress relief to be able to literally rip your nails off,” she said.

Despite the statistic, Hernandez said she knows a lot of women who bite their nails. She noticed that especially people in the band bite their nails because they have to keep the length short.

“All my life, my parents told me that nails were really lady like and I should grow them long,” she said.

Hernandez decided to stop biting her nails in order to show some self-control and challenge herself to overcome the impulse.

“I decided to stop because I thought if I could get over nail biting, then I could probably get over almost anything,” she said.