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Fear of boogers or mucus

Jan 30, 20237 minute read

The fear of mucus or “boogers” can present in the OCD subtypes of Contamination OCD and “Just Right” (Perfectionism) OCD, and can be very debilitating, interfering with many areas of life.  

Fear of boogers and OCD

The fear of “boogers” or clumps of mucus is very common with OCD, most often seen in the Contamination OCD subtype. Most people would likely agree that boogers are unpleasant. However, for people with OCD, they may actually cause fear or distress, for a number of reasons. 

In contamination fears, the fear is less about boogers specifically, and more about what could come as a result of being in contact with them. Music and boogers can trigger deeper fears of being contaminated or contracting diseases. People with Contamination OCD may fear being contaminated themselves, but they could also fear spreading contaminants to someone else. 

For example, someone with a fear of boogers might see a child pick their nose, and immediately fear that the germs from that booger will get onto them. This would likely be followed by an excessive effort to remove or avoid any contamination from the booger. The fear of boogers will often seem illogical, even to the person experiencing it, but even the slightest worry or uncertainty feels intolerable. As a result they will go to extreme, painstaking lengths to avoid being around boogers or people they fear may spread mucus.

Fear of boogers can also be present in “Just Right” (Perfectionism) OCD. A person with a fear of boogers in Just Right OCD may feel they need to blow their nose until it feels “just right,” or feel that they need to follow a specific ritual each time they blow their nose to avoid feeling like something is “off,” “not right,” imperfect, or incomplete. They may feel they’re not able to tolerate the “off” feeling when they don’t blow their nose in “just the right way.” They may feel they need to blow their nose excessively until it feels completely empty of any traces of boogers or mucus. They may blow their nose excessively throughout the day or follow excessive rituals when they blow their nose.

Common obsessions

  • What if touching that booger makes me sick, and I die?
  • What If I spread the germs from that booger onto my family, and they become sick and die?
  • I touched a booger, and now I’m contaminated.
  • They picked their nose and touched me. What if they wiped the booger on me?
  • What if there are boogers on my desk, and I just can’t see them? 
  • If I don’t complete my nose blowing ritual, I’m going to feel really uncomfortable for the rest of the day. 
  • Something is “off” if I don’t blow my nose in just the right way
  • I need to blow my nose again because it doesn’t feel perfectly emptied. 
  • Can people see boogers in my nose?

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Common triggers

People with OCD focused on a fear of boogers or mucus may be triggered by situations or events where contact with boogers could occur. They could also be triggered by intrusive images or thoughts about boogers or other nose debris. These triggers will vary person to person, and each individual will have their own triggers.

Triggers for people with fear of boogers in OCD include:

  • Seeing boogers or mucus
  • Seeing someone pick their nose
  • Shaking hands with someone
  • Sitting in close proximity to young children
  • Hearing about boogers
  • Hearing people blow their nose
  • Blowing their own nose
  • Not having the chance to complete a nose blowing ritual
  • Having a stuffy nose, having a cold, or having allergies

How can I tell if it’s OCD focused on a fear of boogers, and not general safety and cautiousness?

OCD focused on a fear of boogers would exceed normal levels of disgust or uneasiness. Also, if a person is experiencing OCD, the fear of boogers would typically be followed by excessive and repetitive behaviors to reduce or remove the distress or discomfort. These behaviors could be completely normal behaviors, like nose blowing or checking a mirror, but are done so excessively that they become a problem. For some individuals with OCD, the fear of boogers will also involve a deeper fear as the cause. For example, a fear of boogers may be rooted in a fear of contamination, disease, and death.

To help determine if you’re struggling with OCD, it’s important to understand the symptoms of OCD. OCD is characterized by a cycle of obsessions (persistent, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges), anxiety and distress caused by obsessions, and compulsions (actions performed in response to obsessions in an attempt to reduce distress and anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions often provide temporary relief from fear and anxiety; however, they lead to significantly increased fear and anxiety in the long run. Engaging in compulsions strengthens the obsessions and causes the OCD sufferer to become more trapped in the vicious cycle of OCD and anxiety. 

Here are some common indicators that you might be struggling with OCD involving a fear of mucus or boogers:

  • Avoidance of mucus or boogers
  • Excessive behaviors to address fear of boogers, like checking or blowing your nose
  • Worrying about boogers when none are present
  • Excessive efforts to identify boogers

Common compulsions

When people with OCD focused on a fear of boogers or mucus experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they feel compelled to engage in certain behaviors in an attempt to reduce or eliminate anxiety or prevent a feared outcome. These behaviors may seem harmless or helpful at first, but over time they become more invasive, and require more effort to achieve the same level of relief or feelings of cleanliness. These behaviors are called compulsions, and they are what keeps the cycle of OCD going. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD involving a fear of boogers or mucus include:

  • Avoiding physical contact with boogers
  • Taking excessive measures to avoid touching someone who picks their nose
  • Excessive cleaning of shared utensils
  • Excessive washing of hands
  • Asking others for reassurance about being clean
  • Refusing to touch perceived contaminated objects or spaces
  • Repeated checking for boogers in the mirror or on shared objects or spaces
  • Maintaining a mental list of people who are “clean” and “dirty”
  • Excessive nose blowing
  • Following a specific ritual each time you blow your nose

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How to overcome the fear of boogers or mucus

OCD with a focus on fear of boogers and mucus can be debilitating and interfere with many areas of life, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you will work collaboratively to develop an individualized plan that helps you attack your fears head on. 

ERP is the leading evidence-based treatment for OCD, is highly effective at treating OCD, and has been empirically validated by decades of clinical research. By doing ERP over time, most people experience a decrease in OCD symptoms, reduced anxiety and distress, and improved confidence in their ability to confront their fears and tolerate anxiety. The goal of ERP is not to erase anxiety or fear, but rather to provide your brain with new information so that it can learn to process intrusive thoughts and discomfort on its own. 

Examples of possible exposures done to treat a fear of boogers in OCD include:

  • Be around children
  • Pick your nose
  • Hold a booger
  • Watch someone pick their nose
  • Play with slime or fake boogers
  • Blow your nose without engaging in your usual ritual
  • Limit the amount of times you can blow your nose in a day

If you’re struggling with OCD and are interested in learning about ERP, I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD Care Team to find out how treatment can help you. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Many of them have dealt with OCD themselves and understand how crucial ERP therapy is.

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