Anyone who's ever struggled to blow out a stubborn, stuck-on blob of snot from their nose has felt a pang of frustration when their booger simply won't budge.
If you regularly suffer from hard, dry cling-ons, you might be wondering why, whether you should worry and if digging for booger gold (gross factor aside) is a viable option.
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Here, Philip Chen, MD, FARS, an associate professor of otolaryngology and rhinology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, explains why you get those hard boogers and suggests safe ways to remove them. (Spoiler alert: Before you cram your finger up your nose to pry free a particularly persistent boogie, you might want to think twice). Plus, he provides tips on how to prevent dry, crusty snot flecks in the first place.
First Things First, What Are Boogers Exactly?
Boogers are made of mucus. "Mucus is a very important bodily liquid that coats the lining of the aero-digestive system (i.e., nose, sinuses, mouth, stomach, etc.), which acts to trap foreign substances like dirt, bacteria and pollutants that we don't want in the body," Dr. Chen says. "It also contains antibodies to help fight off infection."
Fun fact: We usually produce as much as 1.5 liters (that's about 6 cups!) of mucus a day. But we don't normally notice this steady stream of snot because we swallow most of it, Dr. Chen says. Breathing dries out a lot of the other mucus that's left in the nose, and some of this becomes boogers.
Having boogers is totally natural and rarely anything to be worried about, Dr. Chen says.
Why Do Boogers Become Hard and Dry?
Some people are prone to having hard, dry boogers on a regular basis. What gives?
Several factors will contribute to the formation of dried, hard mucus in your nose.
1. Dry Air
For starters, where you live can be a major cause of crusty, hard snot. For example, dry nose crusts can accumulate faster in dry environments versus humid, moist climates, Dr. Chen says. That's because bone-dry air can irritate your nasal passages. When this happens, your body may produce even more mucus to make up for the dryness. And the more mucus you have, the more boogers will form.
In other words, desert dwellers are more likely to develop dry, hard boogers than people who live in the tropics.
Similarly, you may suffer from hard snot during drier seasons like wintertime when indoor heating minimizes the moisture in the air.
2. Certain Medications
What you put in your body can also bolster your odds of forming hard boogs. Case in point: Certain medicines. Medications like antihistamines, which can dry the nose and decrease mucus production, can result in more dry, hard boogers, Dr. Chen says.
What's more, allergies themselves can be the source of your solid, stiff snot. Allergies often lead to more mucus production, Dr. Chen says. Again, more mucus equals more boogers.
"We all produce boogers, and, really, the longer they've been there, the longer time they have to dry out."
Is It Safe to Pick Your Nose?
If blowing your nose doesn't flush out stalwart snot, is it OK to pick your nose to dislodge dry, hard boogers?
"Avoid [picking] when possible," Dr. Chen says. For one, you can introduce more germs to your nose via your fingers. Or, conversely, your boogers (which are germ traps) can transfer things like bacteria to your hands (and then to your mouth or eyes).
Not to mention, sometimes those persistent pieces of dried snot are really stuck up there, out of your finger's reach. And while you may be tempted to fish them out with a cotton swab, resist the urge. Placing long objects up your nose can cause nosebleeds or other problems, Dr. Chen says.
Plus, hard boogers tend to hang onto your nose hairs, so plucking them out can be painful. Not only do you risk ripping out your nose hairs, but you may also tear off a tender piece of skin, too (ouch).
The Best Way to Remove Hard, Dry Boogers
When it comes to removing clingy, hard boogies, it's best to try loosening them up through rinsing. "Saline-based nasal treatments are the safest and probably most effective interventions," Dr. Chen says.
Try one of these strategies to soften hard, stubborn snot:
- Saline mists and sprays help temporarily moisten dry mucus, Dr. Chen says. Try Arm & Hammer's Simply Saline Nasal Mist ($7.29, Amazon.com).
- Nasal gels, which have a thicker consistency and coat your nose, can humidify the nose for a longer time than saline sprays, Dr. Chen says. Try Neilmed Nasogel ($7.45, Amazon.com).
- Saline irrigations like the Neti-pot are good for cleaning the nose and sweeping away dried snot. "Be sure to keep these devices clean and don't share with anyone else," Dr. Chen says. Try SinuCleanse Soft Tip Neti-Pot ($9.99, Amazon.com).
How to Prevent Dry, Hard Boogers
Because your snot serves an important protective purpose (remember, it traps irritants like dirt or bacteria), you don't want to prevent your body from producing boogers altogether.
Still, there are simple steps you can take to keep your mucus moist to prevent persistently dry, hard boogies. Try these expert-approved techniques:
- Use a humidifier: By adding moisture to the air, a humidifier can help decrease formation of hard, dry crusts in your nose, Dr. Chen says.
- Drink plenty of H2O: If you're dehydrated, your mucus will be dry like the Sahara too. Staying well hydrated might help to keep your mucus moist and flowing, Dr. Chen says.
When Should You See a Doctor?
If humidification and saline rinsing don't help to decrease the frequency of your dry, hard boogers, you should have a discussion with your doctor, Dr, Chen says.
First, if you're taking any medicines that produce dry nose side effects, your doctor may prescribe you a different drug or dosage.
In addition, your doctor may also choose to evaluate you for other underlying health issues, because some conditions can cause or contribute to nose crusting, such as certain autoimmune diseases, Dr. Chen says. What's more, anatomic issues (aka the way your nose is built) may make it difficult for boogers to pass through your nose, he adds. If the issue is severe enough, your doctor may want to consider surgery.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.