What does a behavior like nose picking have to do with getting the coronavirus?
According to a new scientific study, 85% of healthcare workers surveyed reported actually picking their nose with different frequency – monthly, weekly or daily. Of this sample of 219 participants, 17% contracted the coronavirus compared to 6% of those who said they stayed away from these… activities.
In 2020 researchers studied the increased risk of coronavirus infection among healthcare workers. The next step of the research was to examine how various behaviors of the workers, which were in conflict with the health guidelines, might have contributed to contracting the virus, such as biting the nails, picking the nose, etc.
The nature of the nose
The nose sucks in the air and the organisms it contains, making it one of the main points of entry for bacteria and viruses into the human body. The dark, moist nooks and crannies of the nasal cavities are an ideal environment for germs like the coronavirus to survive.
The coronavirus is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets and inhaled particles. It can also land on surfaces or faces. Touching the eyes, mouth or nose, after contact with a contaminated surface, can increase the risk of introducing the virus into the body, experts say.
However, the mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity offers protection. The membrane is sticky, allowing it to trap pathogens so that the immune system can attack them before they begin to multiply. When this lining is damaged, for example by carving the nose, then the protection it offers is compromised. At the same time, pathogenic microorganisms enter the blood stream.
How to curb this bad habit?
People touch their face for many reasons, such as to communicate or soothe themselves. Some of these actions may be involuntary, such as rubbing their foreheads, or subconscious, such as nail biting, says Zach Sikoraa clinical psychologist at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group.
During the pandemic, research showed that even medical and dental students were touching their faces. One study showed that a group of medical students touched their faces, on average, 23 times an hour – and 44% of these involved contact with the eyes, mouth or nose.
According to the researchers, the fifth cranial nerve carries sensory signals from the face, including the jaw, eyelids and nose, to the brainstem, allowing people to sense touch, temperature and pain. Stimulating this nerve can also help relieve pain, especially when it is associated with anxiety.
Many people under stress bite their lips, close their eyes too tightly, or pick their nose – specifically the tip of their nose – and touch it. Such behaviors are linked to the individual’s need to suppress the levels of stress they are experiencing.
To limit the spread of the disease, medical experts suggest keeping our hands away from our face through “barriers” such as gloves and masks. Another way of coping is to replace the behavior with a new one, such as massaging the back of the neck, rubbing the hands, etc. In any case, the observance of sanitary rules is deemed necessary.
With data from The Washington Post.