Currently, there is little research suggesting that nose picking may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. More research is necessary.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that happens when an accumulation of proteins in the brain permanently damages brain tissues.

This kind of brain damage eventually leads to symptoms like forgetfulness, loss of speech and writing abilities, and an inability to take care of yourself.

As of 2023, over 6.7 million people in the United States over 65 years have received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and an estimated 14 million people may receive their diagnosis by 2060.

While growing evidence seems convincing, it’s still difficult to say for sure whether there’s a direct link between nose picking and your risk for Alzheimer’s.

Read on to learn more about what the research says, what confirmed risks of nose picking you should be aware of, and how to keep yourself from picking your nose.

The basic notion at the heart of the link between nose picking and Alzheimer’s disease has to do with introducing foreign substances or infectious material into your nose.

But the evidence is mostly theoretical, and scientists haven’t done any studies on humans.

A 2023 narrative review provides the deepest examination of the link between pathogens that can enter the nose — including bacteria, viruses, or fungi — and cause inflammation in the brain.

The authors discuss how pathogens on the fingers can get into the olfactory system, a set of structures that help your brain interpret odors, when you insert your fingers into your nasal passages.

Like other parts of your body, your nose and olfactory system have a specific nasal microbiome, a collection of healthy bacteria.

But these pathogens can start to live among your healthy bacteria and eventually colonize your nose and olfactory system permanently.

And your olfactory system has a direct connection to your brain. This means that long-term, low grade infectious pathogens in your olfactory system may also travel to your brain and cause brain inflammation that can go undetected for a long period.

The authors suggest that this kind of brain inflammation may link to the development of proteins and other substances that are risk factors for Alzheimer’s, such as:

  • amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptides
  • tau proteins
  • plaque formations

One other study also suggested that there’s evidence for this link between nose picking and Alzheimer’s.

A 2022 study on mice found that a specific bacteria called Chlamydia pneumoniae could get through the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from pathogens in your body.

This can cause long-term brain inflammation similar to that which increases your risk of Alzheimer’s in humans.

The evidence isn’t conclusive on whether nose picking has a direct link to your risk of Alzheimer’s.

But confirmed risks of picking your nose include:

  • increasing your risk of respiratory infections introduced through your nose, such as pneumonia and COVID-19
  • damaging or injuring tissues that can result in breaking down your nose cartilage over time
  • damaging or desensitizing nasal hairs that protect your olfactory system from infections, such as nasal vestibulitis

Some tips to help stop yourself from nose picking and reduce its possible effects on your health include:

  • hydrating your nasal tissues with nasal irrigation or a saline rinse to reduce itching, dryness, and mucus buildup
  • keeping tissues nearby and using them to wipe or blow your nose instead of your finger
  • washing your hands frequently or using hand sanitizer to keep your fingers clean
  • wrapping a bandage on your fingers to remind yourself not to put your fingers in your nose

Allergies can make you pick your nose because it feels itchy or is constantly dripping. Ask a doctor or allergist about allergy medications, such as hydroxyzine, to help reduce itching and other allergy symptoms.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about nose picking and illness.

Can nose picking cause cancer?

Nose picking alone doesn’t cause cancer.

But introducing pathogens into your nose can increase your risk of infections. Over time, long-term infections or inflammation can increase your risk of certain cancers, such as sinus and nasal cancer.

Can nose picking cause Parkinson’s?

There’s no evidence that nose picking can cause Parkinson’s disease.

Unlike Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s affects a specific part of the brain called the substantia nigra that produces dopamine. And there aren’t any known links between pathogens that get into your nose and cause inflammation in this part of the brain.

What is the psychological reason for nose picking?

You might pick your nose more frequently when you’re anxious or stressed. This kind of compulsive nose picking is known as rhinotillexomania.

Two types of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) called excoriation disorder and trichotillomania can cause you to compulsively pick your nose or pull out nose hairs.

Finding out the cause of your anxiety or stress can help reduce your nose picking, or you can work with a therapist or mental health professional to address the issues underlying your mental health.

There’s little evidence that picking your nose has a direct link to your risk for Alzheimer’s.

But inflammation in your brain linked to pathogens in your nose suggests that a relationship between nose picking and some of the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s may exist.

Contact a medical professional if you’re concerned about the effect of your nose picking on your health.