Signs & Symptoms of Onychophagia, Its Harmful Effects, Causes & Ways To Stop Nail Biting

About Onychophagia :

Onychophagia, also known as nail biting is a common problem and is a compulsive habit. Usually children are seen biting their nails more than adults. Onychophagia is often a temporary habit, but it can become severe and permanent as well if not addressed on time. Onychophagia is an oral habit of chewing nails, which leads to the destruction of nails as well as the tissues which are present near the nails and is a compulsive disorder. In the body-focused repetitive behaviour disorders (BFERDs) nail biting or onychophagia is placed under DMS-5. Onychophagia is classified under other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder which usually occurs in adolescence and childhood.

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Onychophagia?

What are the Signs & Symptoms of Onychophagia?

There are many symptoms of onychophagia or nail biting. Onychophagia or nail biting occurs with other BFERDs which can be picking of skin and pulling hairs. The ones who are a victim of onychophagia usually report that they suffer from mental stress and tensions. People feel distressful regarding uneasiness, which occur prior to nail biting. They usually get pleasure or feel rejuvenated after onychophagia or nail biting, but few also experience this distressful feeling even after the act of nail biting.

What are the Harmful Effects of Onychophagia or Nail Biting?

Onychophagia or nail biting can cause much harm which may be diversified. Chronic nail biting can cause damage to tissues present near the nails. Mouth injuries and dental problems can also occur due to severe onychophagia or nail biting. Due to this habit nail biting, pathogens enter the mouth and can infect the whole body. Digestive problems are often seen in those who are more prone to onychophagia or nail biting like children. Children usually get diarrhoea and other stomach related issue like cramps in the abdominal regions due to onychophagia or nail biting.

Nail biting also causes physical damage to nails. Severe onychophagia or nail biting can lead to permanent damage of nails and hence they may look dull throughout the life due to the damage of nail beds. This can lead to the feeling of embarrassment and guilt. Onychophagia or nail biting can also cause breaking of skin on cuticle. Cuticle may face viral infections once damaged. Onychophagia or nail biting can also lead to various mouth problems like gingival injuries and damage to anterior teeth. Another possibility of transfer of bacteria to our mouth from nail biting is also there. When bitten nails are swallowed it can also lead to various stomach problems, which can sometimes be very uncomfortable to deal with. So onychophagia or nail biting is definitely not a good habit and hence should be addressed immediately.

What are the Causes of Onychophagia or Nail Biting?

There are people who have a tendency to develop BFRBs genetically. Anxiety is one of the major reasons for onychophagia or nail biting. It has been reported that people who bite their nails feel relieved against stress, tension and boredom. It has been witnessed that people who bite nails, do so when they are tensed, depressed, they feel nervous, sad, when bored, or even hungry.

The children who are into thumb or finger sucking tend to onychophagia or nail biting as they get older. Though onychophagia or nail biting may not appear as a chronic psychiatric issue, but sometimes it can be connected to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety which are related to separation, enuresis, disorder of oppositional defiant and other mental disorders can also be the among the major causes for nail biting.

Treatment for Onychophagia or Ways To Stop Nail Biting

There are many things which can be done to prevent onychophagia or nail biting. One of the most commonly used methods, which is very cheap as well for treating onychophagia or nail biting is applying any bitter tasting material on nail like denatonium benzoate which is a chemical for preventing nail biting. But this traditional method of dealing with onychophagia or nail biting has become ineffective with time. There are other things which can be done to treat onychophagia or nail biting like blocking the contact of mouth and nails by wearing gloves and applying any other thing which can fulfil the purpose.

When onychophagia or nail biting becomes severe and these methods are not effective then there are many therapies, which can be carried out in order to treat the habit or nail biting. Therapies are generally very effective and a very effective treatment for onychophagia or nail biting. Stimulus therapy can be carried out which stops the stimulation for onychophagia or nail biting. Other treatment options can be reducing the emotional pain and other factors which can result into onychophagia or nail biting.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment method for Onychophagia. Generally drugs are avoided in the case of onychophagia or nail biting, as other effective measures are present. The most important thing during the treatment of onychophagia or nail biting is cooperation of the children or the adult which is a must and to make it easier to eliminate this habit.


Onychophagia or nail biting is a very common disorder and will subside away with age, but sometimes this habit can become permanent and long lasting. Since onychophagia or nail biting is harmful and health measures should be taken to stop it. Onychophagia or nail biting is a habit, which takes time to get cured hence cooperation of the patient and the family is much needed.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 2, 2019

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