What really stops nail biting – 2022

nail biting

What really stops nail biting

Chewed nails are not nice to look at, make you susceptible to painful nail bed infections – and are also often associated with negative character traits: Nail biters are seen as nervous and weak-willed. Nail biting…

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Nail Biting, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.


What really stops nail biting

Chewed nails are not nice to look at, make you susceptible to painful nail bed infections – and are also often associated with negative character traits: Nail biters are seen as nervous and weak-willed.

“Although chewing nails can also be an indication of a deeper mental disorder. In many cases, however, nibbling is simply a bad habit or a sign of tension,” says Professor Steffen Moritz, graduate psychologist at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University Hospital Hamburg- Eppendorf (UKE). “Often it’s only done in certain situations, such as boredom or stress. It’s used to relieve tension.”

Method 1: Bitter substances as a deterrent

For people who only nibble occasionally, over-the-counter preparations from the pharmacy are helpful. They contain bitter substances and are applied to the nails. The unpleasant taste makes sufferers aware of the bad habit as soon as they bite their nails. “The ingredients are harmless. The preparations can even be used on small children,” explains Dr. Ulrich Klein, specialist in dermatology from Witten. But the tinctures don’t always help. Some sufferers get used to the taste or pick at their nails until the bitter aroma is gone.

Method 2: Habit Reversal Training

Sometimes therapeutic approaches that actively change the disruptive behavior make more sense. A proven psychological treatment technique, called habit reversal training, relies on people learning to recognize their bad habit and replacing it with competing behaviors. But even this technique is not successful in all patients, either because the method is not used consistently enough or because the urge to bite is too strong.

Method 3: Decoupling

A newer treatment technique in the fight against nail biting comes from the working group led by Steffen Moritz and Michael Rufer from the University of Zurich: the “decoupling method”.

In contrast to previous techniques, which aim to omit the bad behavior in all its components or to do something completely different, the decoupling treatment allows ingrained movement patterns to be retained, at least in part. The actual change in behavior is that the movement is diverted before reaching the target—in the case of nail biting, it’s the mouth. “That makes it easier to unlearn old behavior,” explains psychologist Moritz.

Practical exercises look like this, for example: The nail chewer leads his fingers in the direction of his face. However, they do not reach the mouth, but he directs them with a quick movement towards the ear, the nose or another point. Or he touches the fingernails, but not with his teeth, but with his fingertips. So he gives in to his urges, but in a way that doesn’t result in wrongdoing.

When is additional help needed?

In the case of excessive nibbling, consistent medical care is essential. So when the nail is bitten off so far that the nail bed is injured and swells. “Bacteria, viruses and fungi can easily penetrate and cause severe local inflammation or lead to a nail growth disorder,” explains dermatologist Klein. Extreme nail biters also often pull at the skin around the fingernails, which can also cause painful inflammation.

If the sufferer is severely affected by the biting and nibbling, or if the annoying habit is used as an outlet, psychological treatment may be needed. Moritz explains: “Many people affected by chewed nails are embarrassed to shake hands. It is not uncommon for feelings of shame and the fear that others might discover the behavior to limit the quality of life and lead to subsequent psychological problems.” In these cases, further help can help to get to the bottom of the cause of the nail biting and to eliminate it.


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