Q: Why do boogers form, and what is the best way to clear them out?
A: A booger is simply dried-out mucus that is clumped together. A layer of mucus, consisting mostly of water but gooey in consistency, lines the inside of the nose, keeping the nasal passages warm and moist, while also protecting the lungs by trapping everything from pathogens to dust, dirt, pollen, pollutants, and other particles. If you have a cold, sinus infection, or allergies, more mucus forms—and the mucus becomes thicker, resulting in more booger formation. Boogers are also more likely to form when the environment is dry.
When boogers build up, you may feel the need to pick your nose. But that’s not a good idea. The membrane of the nasal passage is delicate and a fingernail can easily scratch it, causing bleeding and then growth of a scab. The scab can be even more irritating than the original boogers and may make you want to pick more.
Chronically picking your nose, especially with a dirty finger, can lead to nasal inflammation and infection. There is evidence that people who pick their nose are much more likely to have Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in their nasal passages than those who don’t pick. It’s especially important to not touch your nose, inside or out, with unwashed fingers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
To reduce the likelihood of boogers forming, you can use a saline nasal spray regularly and take steamy showers; a humidifier can also help if the air in your home is dry. If you still get boogers, try blowing your nose lightly while in a steamy shower. If that doesn’t entirely help, you can gently remove them with a clean fingertip wrapped in a thin wet cloth or tissue.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see 6 Body Oddities Explained.