Onychophagy: the child bites his nails

Fonte: shutterstock

In this article

  • why do children bite their nails?
  • what is onychophagy
  • what are the risks?
  • practical remedies
  • psychological help
  • pharmacological remedies, nail polishes, chilli or bitter substances

Why do children bite their nails?

It is a tic, which generally expresses a psychological discomfort of varying degrees, generally negligible and rarely to be evaluated and treated.

What is onychophagy

Is the child biting his nails? The disturgo is called onychophagy it leads the person, pediatric or adult, to compulsively bite their nails.

The word comes from the Greek onikos (nail) and fagos (to eat). It is a very common habit. It's probably a manifestation of a little stress, but it's certainly not something to worry about.

What are the risks involved?

The local complications that nail biting can cause are limited

  • to excoriations
  • and superficial wounds at risk of over infection, such as the finger,
  • or irritative dermatitis.

But the greatest risk is that of a structural alteration of the nail which grows very poorly, partially, and increasingly distorted, thickened or thinned, and if the tic is chronic this alteration becomes permanent.

The treatment of irritative dermatitis or superimposed local infection varies according to the extent of the damage, therefore it requires the advice of your pediatrician or dermatologist.

Are there any practical remedies to keep the child from biting his nails?

The best remedies are the direct ones: speak with the child, listen to his motivations and make him understand why he should not do it, but without obsession and with a lot of patience and gradualness, because it is a habit that, once established, can be eliminated, but it takes a long time, sometimes even a few years.

If this is not enough, it may be appropriate to ask for help from the psychologist, even if it is not a disorder to be considered pathological.

When does it become necessary to speak to a psychologist?

To decide if psychological help is needed, it is very important to evaluate the child's general attitude, his interaction at school or in the environments he attends, his sensitivity, any other associated tics or that replace that of onychophagy.

Are there any pharmacological remedies? Enamels? Bitter substances?

There aren't any drug remedies or really useful tricks, like enamels, Chili pepper o bitter substances: with children you must always explain everything, inform them of the importance of self-image and the damage they cause: the immediate one (irritation, infection) and the long-term one (definitive alteration of the nail structure).

Moreover, the hand is the means of first contact with others, so the hygienic aspect also counts: putting your finger in your mouth then giving your hand to others is not nice, just as it is not nice to show damaged nails!

In short, it is better to take more time to make the child think than to use indirect and not 'sincere' methods.

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