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Fingernail biting: causes and treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 450 views

Fingernail chewing or biting (medical: onychophagia) is observed primarily in children and adolescents. But adults can also be (compulsive) nail biters. Most of the time it’s just a nervous habit. Rarely is there a profound neurotic disorder behind fingernail biting. Onychophagia often goes away on its own. But you can help with special tinctures. Read more about fingernail biting here.

quick overview

  • Causes: Usually an outlet for unresolved conflict or stressful situations, possibly also a symptom of a mental disorder
  • Is fingernail biting bad? If the affected person bites their nails compulsively and for a long time, painful skin tears can develop. The nail plate can shorten. In addition, bacterial or viral inflammation, warts or nail growth disorders can occur.
  • What can be done about fingernail biting? apply special nail polish from the pharmacy, cut your nails short, look for another “stress valve”. The doctor has therapeutic options to wean those affected from chewing their fingernails. Some people also swear by homeopathy and Schuessler salts.

The concept of homeopathy and Schuessler salts and their specific effectiveness are controversial in science and not clearly proven by studies.

Fingernail biting: causes and possible diseases

In most cases, fingernail biting is a kind of outlet for unresolved conflicts and tense situations . Those affected cannot deal adequately with stress and tension.

Nail biting is mostly observed in children and adolescents. It generally does not appear until after the age of four. Children between the ages of seven and ten chew their fingernails most frequently. A possible reason for this is a restrictive and oppressive upbringing. The likelihood that those affected will start biting their nails increases, especially when the environment restricts the motor skills of the adolescent and/or leaves them alone emotionally and aggressive behavior and other feelings are not allowed to be lived out. Biting your nails is considered inappropriate, i.e. inadequate emotional discharge or alternative satisfaction .

Overall, fingernail biting can be observed mainly in two groups of children:

  • Motorically restless, hyperactive and easily excitable children who often also show other habitual (habitual) behaviors such as grinding their teeth or clicking their fingers
  • overanxious children who are restricted in the motor and emotional area and cannot develop

Excessive fingernail biting, in which those affected also injure the cuticles, can be a psychological disorder with a tendency to self-harm (auto-aggression).

Is fingernail biting bad?

Fingernail biting often starts out as a harmless habit. In most affected children and adolescents, it goes away on its own after puberty. The reason is probably the increasing personality maturity.

However, if fingernail biting develops into a compulsion, there are unpleasant and painful consequences. Because people who compulsively chew or bite their fingernails often chew them down to the sole of the nail. Sometimes they also nibble on the skin of the fingertips. Constant nail biting shortens the nail plate and can lead to bacterial or viral inflammation, bleeding and malformations. The tears in the skin of the nails or fingertips can be painful, and warts (common warts = Varrucae vulgares) develop more easily in the damaged areas. Sometimes nail growth disorders also occur.

What helps with fingernail biting?

In many cases, sufferers can do something themselves to get rid of the bad habit. Sometimes, however, medical examination and treatment are advisable.

Fingernail biting: you can do it yourself

If fingernail biting is just an annoying habit that has no deep psychological cause, there is a lot you can do about it yourself.

  • If you or your child want to break the habit of chewing your fingernails, you can get a special nail polish against nail biting in the pharmacy. This tastes quite bitter, which makes biting your nails very uncomfortable. It also makes the person concerned aware that they are (unconsciously) biting their nails.
  • It often helps to cut the nails short. Because where there are few nails, it is difficult to chew something off.
  • Some sufferers find it easier to gradually break the habit of biting their fingernails. Then it can help to get into the habit of leaving only part of the nails alone at first. The self-imposed “ban on chewing” is then slowly extended to the remaining nails.
  • Older girls and adult women can sometimes break the habit of biting their nails with the following tip: beautify the nails with artificial fingernails or an elaborate manicure. This can discourage fingernail biting.
  • Sometimes relaxation techniques can also stop nail biting if it serves as an outlet for fear, tension and inner turmoil.
  • Hyperactive and impulsive nail biters may try to channel their excess energy into other channels (e.g. into sports or other motor activities). Then the nail biting is often lost.

If you suspect psychological causes (e.g. self-injurious behavior) or if your cuticles or nail beds are inflamed, it is advisable to see a doctor.

Fingernail biting: what does the doctor do?

Before the doctor can suggest an appropriate therapy, he must ensure that there is no pervasive personality disorder as the cause of fingernail biting (if so, it is advisable to see a specialist such as a psychiatrist).

Therapy against fingernail biting

Azrin and Nunn ‘s ” habit reversal training” is a therapeutic method for breaking someone’s habit of fingernail biting .

These are usually situations with increased tension or performance requirements (e.g. at school or at work). Then the nail biter trains a competitive behavior (like making a fist with the hand) in such situations.

If rough nail edges tempt the affected person to chew their fingernails, it can be useful to carry a nail care set with them. In critical situations, when the urge to bite your nails arises, the sufferer can instead file down the rough edges (if this is possible in the social environment concerned).

In addition, the person affected should get used to checking the condition of their nails every day and caring for them regularly. This can prevent a relapse into fingernail biting.

Chewing fingernails: homeopathy and Schuessler salts

Sometimes parents of children who chew their nails and adult nail biters try homeopathy or Schuessler salts:

  • For example, the homeopathic Calcium phosphoricum D12 is said to help when chewing your fingernails is the result of great tension (e.g. when you are overwhelmed at school or at work), the person concerned quickly becomes physically tired and often suffers from headaches.
  • If the symptoms worsen with cold weather and improve with warm weather, this is considered a further indication that Calcium phosphoricum D12 is the appropriate homeopathic remedy. The same mineral can be given as Schuessler salt (No. 2), but in a 6X potency.
  • Another homeopathic remedy for fingernail biting is Ammonium bromatum D12. It is said to be indicated for children who constantly gnaw and bite their fingers and complain of irritation under their nails. Symptoms worsen at night and on waking and get better with warmth.
  • Sulfur D12 is said to help with fingernail biting when the sufferer injures the skin on the nail bed when biting the nail, which leads to chronic inflammation and a general tendency to skin rashes. Cold and long periods of standing aggravate the symptoms, heat improves them.

The concepts of homeopathy and Schuessler salts and their specific effectiveness are controversial in science and not clearly proven by studies.

Fingernail biting: when to see a doctor?

If those affected do not injure themselves by biting their fingernails and are ashamed of their bitten nails, there is no need for action – children usually stop biting their nails at some point. In all other cases you should see a doctor.

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