Onychophagia and Mental Health

Onychophagia and Mental Health

February 08 2023 TalktoAngel 0 comments 679 Views

While nail-biting is usually a cosmetic problem that is temporary and not too destructive, however, it can become a serious, long-term problem. Onychophagia (or onychophagy) is a condition that causes persistent, uncontrollable nail biting and tissue damage to the fingernails. Though Onychophagia is not specifically described under DSM-5, it is categorized as "body-focused repetitive behavior disorders (BFRBs) like lip biting and cheek chewing, which is listed under " For other specified Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders" seek professional online treatment by Clinical Psychologists or online counselling from a licensed therapist or Best Psychologist in India focusing on the psychological and physical factors for reducing the compulsive habit of nail-biting.

Nail biting or onychophagia is a self-grooming behavior that involves biting and chewing fingernails, as well as the toenails. This is a self-destructive habit that can be repeated or displayed in response to stressful situations.

Is Onychophagia harmful?

Nail biting can cause serious health problems, including infection, physical injuries and other mental disorders. Onychophagia is a condition that does not currently have a diagnosis but it is a condition that falls under the umbrella of pathological grooming. To determine if these conditions are all caused by similar tendencies, various research has been conducted. Onychotillomania, a related psychiatric disorder, is associated with chronic picking and manicuring of nails. Onychophagia on the other hand can be a benign or deeply embedded self-mutilative behavior. People who started biting their nails when they were children will eventually get over it. It can become a long-lasting habit for others who find it very difficult to break.

Psychological reasons why people bite their nails?

Onychophagia may have a genetic connection. Some people seem to have an inherited tendency to develop BFRBs. There are also higher than-average rates of anxiety and mood disorders in their immediate families. Because of the way that nails are chewed on, it is often associated with anxiety. People who bite their nails regularly often say that it has become their habit. They do this when they are anxious, bored, lonely, or hungry. You can also get the habit of nail-biting from a previous thumb or finger-sucking habit. While it is possible for nail-biting to happen without any other psychiatric symptoms, it has been linked to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, separation anxiety, enuresis, tic disorder, and other mental health conditions. The following are the common causes of the behavior (Siddiqui and al., 2020).

Nervousness: Compulsive nail biting is commonly associated with anxiety and stress. It can temporarily be relieving due to its calming effects on the nervous system.

Emotions are integral to why we bite our nails. Low self-esteem and shyness resulting from highly traumatic life events like divorce or death can also cause nail-biting habits.

Perfectionism: This trait is similar to the one discussed earlier. It causes a low tolerance of boredom and frustration, which can be alleviated with nail-biting.

Imitating: Children mimic adult behavior.

Onychophagia: Symptoms

Both psychological and physical symptoms can be present in the case of onychophagia. Chronically biting one’s nails compulsively can cause distressing feelings of stress or unease. You may feel relieved or even happy after biting. However, if repeated on a habitual basis, you may feel shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Nail biting is often causes physical damage to your skin and nails. Onychophagia can also be associated with tissue damage to fingers, nails, and cuticles, as well as dental problems, abscesses, and infections. A variety of other symptoms that develop due to Onychophagia include bite wounds, tissue damage, tooth injuries, and oral problems. Onychophagia can also lead to difficult family and social relationships in some cases.


Old-fashioned methods for stopping nail biting, like applying bitter-tasting items to the nails, are sometimes useful for persons who have a milder tendency of biting their nails, but they are typically less successful for those who have persistent, compulsive onychophagia. The use of barrier-type devices that prevent contact between the nails and mouth, such as gloves and socks, mittens and socks, or retainer-style, bite-plate devices, may prove more effective. They both act as impediments and physical reminders to not bite. They can be difficult to use over time or consistently.

Professional treatment is possible for more severe cases. This is especially true if the focus of professional treatment and mental health intervention is on managing emotional triggers and managing nail biting. In some cases of BFRBs, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is often combined with habit-reversal and/or progressive muscle relaxation (JPMR), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), has been proven to be effective. To treat onychophagia successfully, the child or adult must consent to the treatment. Positive reinforcement and routine follow-ups with an Online Counsellor or the Best Therapist in India are essential.

A form of treatment called emotional management commonly referred to as emotion-focused therapy can also aid a person with onychophagia in better comprehending, accepting, regulating, and expressing their emotions. By doing this, they can learn to react to both positive and negative stimuli in the environment in more positive and constructive ways.

For professional support, seek Online Counselling from the Best psychologist in India at TalktoAngel.

There are excellent Online Therapists and the best “Clinical Psychologist near me”, so you must first discuss the issues of nail-biting and learn the most effective strategies suited to you. Whatever the scenario, Online Counselling is a most economical and convenient step for better management of onychophagia.

Contribution by: Dr(Prof) R K SuriBest Clinical Psychologist & Life Coach & Mr. Utkarsh Yadav, Counselling Psychologist


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