What are Boogers: Why Boogers are Good for Health

The gunk in our noses and nasal passages makes many of us feel worse in the winter months. Boogers are gross but really actually important to our health. While they protect us from a lot of bad things, they can also be annoying. Kristin Millin, MD, UnityPoint Health, explains what a booger is and how it forms. She also highlights five things about boogers you probably never knew, including why kids eat boogers and the best way for people of all ages to pick boogers. (And yes, cleaning out your nose is important.)

What are Boogers?

Our body makes boogers to protect us from viruses and irritating particles in our environment that we breathe in every day. All boogers are basically dried out mucus. Our bodies make mucus, a slimy substance that is mostly water, to trap tiny particles of diseases (like a cold virus) and environmental irritants (like pollen and dust) and keep them from traveling down to our lungs. After the mucus traps these things, little hairs in our nose (called cilia) move the mucus toward the front of our nose. Then, we either blow our nose to get rid of the mucus, or it just sits toward the front of our noses and dries out, becoming a booger. 

5 Interesting Booger Facts

  1. If you don’t clean boogers out of your nose, you’ll most likely swallow them throughout the day. To tell the truth, most of the mucus our bodies make ends up in the stomach anyway. If you don’t clean out boogers by blowing or picking, the dried out mucus that moved to the front of the nose can make its way back toward the back of the nasal passage and down the throat.
  2. The best way to pick your nose is with a tissue. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s important! Since boogers are mostly made of mucus and germs, it is a good idea to use a tissue. You should also wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer at minimum, after you blow or pick your nose. If you need help cleaning out your nose, try saline in drop, mist or spray form to help.
  3. If you have a lot of boogers, try drinking more water. Since mucus is made of water, it’s important to drink plenty of it to keep mucus thin and reasonable. If your body is dry, it’s more likely to produce more boogers. During Midwest winters, we turn on the heat to help us stay warm, but unfortunately, this makes the air we breathe dry. When we breathe dry air, our bodies make thicker mucus, which is harder to clear out. Thick mucus and post nasal drip is also why we often feel worse in the winter months.
  4. It’s OK if boogers are bloody or discolored. Sometimes, our boogers turn different colors or are bloody. That usually doesn’t mean anything bad. We have lots of tiny little blood vessels in our nose near where the boogers go, so sometimes when we blow our nose, or if we pick our nose, we will see a little blood in the mucus. Dry air can also make it worse. That is pretty normal. Different colored boogers aren’t alarming either.
  5. Kids eat boogers because they are salty. Most kids pick their noses and eat the boogers because they taste salty. Try using positive reinforcement to help stop this behavior. In other words, don’t scold your child for picking and/or eating boogers. Instead, try praising them when he/she uses a tissue to blow or clean out their nose. Since boogers hold onto germs, it’s important to teach them about not picking their nose to reduce the spread of bugs. If you are worried about your child’s habits, make sure to talk to his/her primary care doctor.