Friday Weird Science: The man with the purple nostrils

May 29 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science

For a few weeks now, Sci's been wanting to get away from the sex for a bit. Not that I mind having this reputation as being a sex blogger (or whatever), but there's more out there to weird science than sex.

And so, the word of the day is: rhinotrichtillomania. Say that three times fast. rhinotrichtillomania, rhinotrichtillomania, rhinotrichit...crap. Fontenelle et al. "The man with the purple nostrils: a case of rhinotrichtillomania secondary to body dysmorphic disorder" Acta Psyciatric Scandanavia, 2002.
So what could this word refer to?

Hmmmm, I wonder.

Rhinotrichtillomania is actually a composite word invented by the authos of this paper, combining the words trichtillomania and rhinotillexomania. Trichtillomania is a psychiatric disturbance involving an obsession with hair plucking. This isn't just when girls get a little over enthusiastic in the eyebrow region. It's actually an impulse-control disorder and a form of self-injury. It is often thought to be stress-related and also related to low self-esteem.
But what is rhinotillexomania? nose picking. When I looked it up, I was shocked to find that apparently, almost EVERYONE DOES IT! WTF. Not only that, almost everyone does it up to four times a day. All Sci can say is that these people clearly have more going on up their noses than she does.
So anyway, four times a day is normal. But much more than that and you could be dealing with something wrong. In particular, body dysmorphic disorder, a pre-occupation with an imagined defect in your appearance. I don't know about you guys, but when I think of a pre-occupation with a imagined defect in your appearance, I think of all those girls who are size 2 and complain about how they still have single-digit subcutaneous fat. But often, body dysmorphic disorder presents itself as something seemingly more benign, an obsession with hair.
It all start with a 29 year old man, living with his mom. While shaving one day, he cut himself on the right nostril. He quickly became very concerned with keeping the cut free of possible infectious agents, like mucus and nose hair. But then, it became a problem with nose hair. After a while, the very sight of nasal hair sent him into a plucking frenzy, and he would repeatedly ask his mother if SHE could see any hairs up his nose.
He was still haunted by the specter of nose hair. It first came to the attention of his doctors when he started asking about the speed of nasal hair growth, and whether it was possible for nasal hair growth to go undetected. He twisted his nose and used tweezers, scissors and hair trimmers trying to get every possible bit of nose hair out of there. It got so bad that was taken to the hospital for nose bleeds that wouldn't stop, not to mention the number of doctors visits for local nasal infection.
After a while, the patient started using 0.5% gentian violet solution (which dyes your skin a lovely purple) to treat his constantly swollen and inflamed nose. Of course, his nose was now bright purple, but it camouflaged the appearance of the nasal hair and made him a little more comfortable about leaving it alone for a while.

But nothing the doctors could suggest would make him calm down about picking the nose hair out. Finally, he was sent to psychiatrists for potential trichtillomania. They quickly realized this was a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder. The patient went on imipramine (a tricyclic antidepressant used for depression and treatment of body dysmorphic disorder), and after a while, it worked, and I think we can all hope for now that this guy has a healthy sprouting of nose hair.
The moral of this story is this: society imposes on people (particularly women) that having body hair in certain places is unacceptable. I think we can all agree that this is pretty arbitrary and silly, and yet there are still few of us willing to risk the censure of walking around in a tanktop with unshaven underarms. So there is a certain amount of hair removal that takes place in society and that is perceived as normal. BUT. If you find yourself completely obsessed with plucking body hair, or for that matter, picking your nose, to the point that you are causing things like bald patches and inflammation, hie the to a doctor. And guys, while we all know that bushes of nose hair can be kind of icky (there's society again), no need to go hairless. You need those bad boys to catch stuff.
Fontenelle, L., Mendlowicz, M., Mussi, T., Marques, C., & Versiani, M. (2002). The man with the purple nostrils: a case of rhinotrichotillomania secondary to body dysmorphic disorder Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 106 (6), 464-466 DOI: 10.1034/j.1600-0447.2002.01463.x

9 responses so far

  • halleberries says:

    I love plucking my nose hair. I do it every couple weeks, and the satisfaction I get from plucking 5 or more at once, or one really long one, can last for half the day. Sometimes I cut my fingernails too short and can't pluck them out as well as I like to, but such is life.

  • zayzayem says:

    Everything in moderation...

  • Mr Ian says:

    I feel a jerk correcting your glorious post... but I suspect you have a mild perfectionist streak about you so.... TrichOtillomania.

  • DuWayne says:

    Sometimes I cut my fingernails too short and can't pluck them out as well as I like to, but such is life.
    Ooh!! I hate it when I cut my nose-pickin' nails too short!!
    But I have never been one for going after the nose hairs - mainly I go after the dust build-up, which is not very much of an issue since I pretty well quit on the whole home repair thing...Still, there are few things as satisfying as getting a big ol' bogie out of there - especially the dried, sort of crispy ones...

  • Scicurious says:

    Mr. Ian: Thank you. Never hesitate to correct my spelling or my improper use of the semicolon. You have earned Sci's love this day.
    halleberries: TMI. Also, try tweezers.

  • Donna B. says:

    Ever see those women with inch long nails? I've always wondered how they picked their nose.

  • daedalus2u says:

    Body hair is quite important and shouldn't be eliminated. According to my research on commensal ammonia oxidizing bacteria, body hair provides a niche for them, and helps to regulate the NO/NOx level in the body. That is why some hair is stimulated by androgens. Androgen synthesis is inhibited by NO, so low NO causes higher androgen levels which then increase hair growth, which increases the niche for the bacteria I am working with and increases NO/NOx levels.
    To me it is perfectly acceptable (actually preferable) for a woman to wear a tank top and not shave.

  • The Landlord says:

    Very intersting. im glad people seem to be so happy to share their own experiences. i seem to get one long hair at a time rather than any grouping or bush of nostril hair. Sometimes they have gone unnoticed by me for several months curled up inside my nostril. Only when having a little poke around do i unravel them. i think the longest one came out a good inch from my nose

  • L says:

    I think i have an obsession with this, ive never thought about it until a friend made me read this but i pluck my nose hairs almost every day. It is so rewarding and its so routine but enjoyable to me now! i also chekc my eyebrows everyday and if one pops up and needs plucking while im out it will distract me and annoy me all day :S

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