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Tourette and Nail Biting

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  • Tourette and Nail Biting

    My 8 year old son, who has Tourette syndrome and ADHD, bites his nails. I notice that his nail biting increases when he plays sports. He has his hands in his mouth the whole time when there is a break in the action. His usual tics also increase during these situations.

    Is Nail biting considered a tic?

  • #2
    Re: Tourette and Nail Biting

    Hello Dreamer!

    My own view, and I stand to be corrected, is that nail biting is not a tic but rather a manifestation of anxiety or stress. As a person with Tourette, I bit my fingernails from childhood well into adulthood, and eventually succeeded in stopping in middle age. It seems to become an unconscious act that tends to relieve tension in those who do it.

    You may be interested in the following article from the Mayo Clinic:

    Although unsanitary, nail biting isn't likely to cause long-term nail damage. Nails are formed at the nail bed — where the U-shaped cuticles begin. As long as the nail bed remains intact, nail biting isn't likely to interfere with fingernail growth. In fact, some research suggests that nail biting might even promote faster nail growth.

    Nail biting isn't without risks, however. For example, nail biting can:

    Contribute to skin infections
    Aggravate existing conditions of the nail bed
    Increase the risk of colds and other infections by encouraging the spread of germs from the nails and fingers to the lips and mouth
    In addition, compulsive nail biting is sometimes a sign of an underlying mental health condition, such as anxiety or an impulse control disorder.

    If you're concerned about nail biting, consult your doctor or a mental health provider. To stop you from nail biting, he or she might suggest:

    Avoiding factors that trigger nail biting, such as boredom
    Finding healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety
    Keeping your nails neatly trimmed or manicured
    Occupying your hands or mouth with alternate activities, such as playing a musical instrument or chewing gum
    In some cases, behavior therapy to stop nail biting might be warranted.
    Originally posted by Dreamer
    I notice that his nail biting increases when he plays sports
    I can see how the competitive nature of a sports activity can heighten stress and if he has developed nail biting as his stress reliever then it would become an unconscious act during those times.

    As you probably are aware, people with Tourette tend to have a lower baseline for anxiety than the general population, so any stressors added to their baseline would therefore heighten their overall stress level.

    Have you investigated possible ways to relieve your son's stress and anxiety with his doctor? Perhaps learning some relaxation techniques prior to stressful activities might help.

    I'm not sure if products sold for fingernail biting would help, since he would probably find ways to bypass them, until he finds ways to reduce or cope with situational stressors. What about trying to replace the need for nail biting with chewing gum at sporting events?

    I find one of the triggers for me has always been roughness in the nail or a "catch" in the nail from a split or nick. Even now, after having stopped nail biting for about ten years, if I have a catch in a nail, I have a compulsion to want to bite it. By keeping some nail files or emery sticks nearby I can smooth the surface which seems to relieve the compulsion to bite.

    So although Tourette may not be directly a cause for nail biting, I believe the underlying anxiety and stress we experience might be the underlying influence. Beyond that, there may be other psychological issues such as oral fixation, which is often extended to smokers as well.

    You may also find this article and the related articles linked to that page on nail biting of interest.

    Dum spiro spero....While I breathe, I hope

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