Most people have heard that nail biting is a “bad habit”, but few are aware that it is actually considered a disorder. The medical term for nail biting is Onychophagia, and it is classified as an impulse control disorder, which means that those who suffer from it cannot control their urge to bite their nails. Onychophagia can lead to infections, pain in the fingers and torn skin around the fingernails.

Quick Facts:

  • Onychophagia is very common in individuals of all ages.
  • Up to 33% of children ages 7 to 10 suffer from Onychophagia.
  • Nail-biting can be induced by stress, boredom, or nervousness.
  • Onychophagia has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Onychophagia can also be linked to a sign of emotional or psychological disorders.

Causes for Onychophagia

Many children take up biting their nails “just because”, and it later develops into a habit and eventually into an automatic reaction to certain situations (usually stressful ones). Onychophagia is very widespread and notoriously difficult to break; most people with Onychophagia do not even notice when they are biting their nails, as they usually do it during routine parts of their day. Nail-biting does not have to be stress-induced; many people bite their nails while watching television, reading, socializing, or even having conversation. People interpret nail biting as a sign of nervousness and a lack of confidence, however, nail biting is not always a result of these factors but exceedingly short nails and torn cuticles often point to an unstable nervous system. Onychophagia most commonly develops during the teenage years of an individual’s life and it is during this time that people experience the most convoluted emotions. In addition, it is during the teenage years that an individual is the worst-equipped to deal with his/her new challenges and emotions, which can lead to the development of Onychophagia.

Treatment of Onychophagia

As those suffering from Onychophagia rarely think about the negative consequences of their actions while they are biting their nails, it can be difficult to put an end to this disorder. Treatment options include variety of therapy and medicines. Common therapy options usually concentrate on pinpointing the exact situations in which the patient finds him/herself biting his/her nails the most and developing strategies to restrain him/herself from biting his/her nails in these situations. Most people who suffer form Onychophagia do not, however, seek counseling or treatment to help them stop biting their nails because no serious complications arise in the majority of the people who bite their nails. It is mainly in the extreme cases that problems such as difficulties in driving and typing due to excessive nail-biting develop; it is in such cases that persons suffering from Onychophagia may seek medical help. Many people who have Onychophagia try to solve the problem themselves by coating their nails with special nail polish designed to repulse the nail-biter with its bitter taste; others either get regular manicures to encourage themselves not to bite their nails or get acrylic nails to protect their nails and enable them to grow. The most important aspect of treatment for onychophagia is the patient’s consent and cooperation; without cooperation, treatment is nearly impossible.

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