Why Do Kids Eat Their Boogers? It’s Not Always Because Of The Taste

Your child is watching an umpteenth episode of Paddington Bear when you notice that his finger is firmly rooted inside his nose. When he’s finally done digging and is able to get the booger out, you watch in horror as he examines it — and then eats it. It might make you wonder why do kids eat their boogers…and is it even safe?

Although it’s definitely gross, kids eating boogers is extremely common. “In children, there can be a number of reasons for eating their own boogers,” says Dr. Jacqueline Jones, M.D., a pediatric ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor and author of Medical Parenting: How to Navigate Health, Wellness & The Medical System with Your Child. “It could be because they saw their friend do it and wanted to try, or because they are still learning social skills and don’t know any better.” Eating boogers is popular among the preschool set, and might also be done out of boredom, or even as a way to relax. And then, there are the kiddos who might find the taste of the mucus too tantalizing to resist.

Kids often begin picking their nose very early in childhood. “Eating boogers often coincides with an oral phase of development that begins around 4 months of age,” says Dr. Jay Lovenheim, D.O., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician in West Orange NJ. “It may have roots in the inability for a small child to blow their nose or use a tissue. Therefore, nose picking is a way to clear an obstruction.” Usually, when your child is able to blow his nose well, the picking should stop.

Now, you know that they’re green and gooey, but what exactly are boogers made from? “Boogers contain lots of little things, like dust, dirt, germs, and pollen,” explains Dr. Lovenheim. “When these things get coated and mixed into the mucous in the nose, they eventually dry and clump together forming boogers.” Because they’re made from bad stuff, it would make sense to avoid eating them. But as we all know, kids put the craziest things in their mouths, so boogers really shouldn’t be all that surprising.

While boogers might not have a whole lot of nutritional value, it’s actually your child picking his nose that runs the bigger medical risk. “Research has shown that children who picked their noses were more likely to carry the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus than those who didn’t pick their noses,” says Dr. Jones. “A child who is picking their nose and then touching other household objects and other people’s skin could potentially increase the risks for spreading viruses and bacteria, such as the flu or the common cold.”

So if your picky little eater insists on, well, picking his nose, there is hope. While it might make you want to gag to watch your child slurp up his nasal secretions, eventually he should grow out of it. “Rest assured that this stage will resolve and it is unlikely that your child will contract a serious illness from this habit,” says Dr. Jones. Just be sure to keep the tissues handy so that your kiddo doesn’t continue making a meal out of his mucus.

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