A study suggests children who chew their nails are at greater risk of lead poisoning. This is because lead can gather under their nails simply by playing in dusty conditions, both indoors and outdoors. It has long been known that exposure to lead may contribute to developmental problems in some children. Previous studies have suggested it may also damage the nervous system.
Lead is found naturally in soil and dust. As a result, it is sometimes consumed via fruit or vegetables that have not been washed properly. Many men, such as plumbers, painters and printers, are exposed to lead at work.
But scientists at the Ural Regional Centre for Environmental Epidemiology in Ekaterinburg believe that biting finger nails may explain why some children also show high levels of the chemical.
Anxiety is only one explanation for why children nip at their nails. Children may be doing it for a number of other less worrisome reasons:
Out of curiosity or boredom,
To relieve stress,
To pass the time, or
Simply from force of habit
Of all the nervous habits – which include thumb sucking, hair twisting, and nose picking – nail biting is the most common (almost all kids do it at some point) and the most likely to continue into adulthood.
In some cases, nail biting may be grouped with other nervous behaviors.
If child bites his nails so intensely that he tears his nail beds or bloodies his fingertips, or chews on his nails and engages in other self-destructive behaviors such as pulling his hair out, talk to his pediatrician. He may be suffering more anxiety or stress than is usual for kids his age.
There are many that now believe that compulsive hair pulling, skin picking, and nail biting form a subgroup of what is becoming known as the Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder Spectrum. OCD has been previously been regarded as only a single disorder. It may in fact represent a range of related disorders, including classic OCD, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, Trichotillomania, Onychophagia, Compulsive Skin Picking, Compulsive Nail Biting, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Recently, a new term has been coined for these problems – Body-focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). As with trichotillomania, skin picking and nail biting are considered to originate within the chemistry of the brain, and may well have an underlying genetic cause.
Most children, however, choose one or a few habits to indulge in (thumb sucking and nose play is a common combination), then give them up without any encouragement. Do your best to ignore the habit and all of a sudden one day you’ll realize it’s gone the way of diapers and teething rings.
Stress management techniques can also help, as can hypnosis for some people.