Mental Health: 5 Signs That You Suffer from Dermatophagia

Dermatophagia is a medical condition that causes the patient to bite their own skin, most commonly around fingernails.
Dermatophagia is a medical condition that causes the patient to bite their own skin, most commonly around fingernails.
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You find yourself in a tense situation, and the first thing you do to deal with the stress is start biting your nails. It sounds pretty harmless….afterall, many people resort to chewing on their nails when thinking of ways to get out of a tricky situation.

But, what if you have started to not just bite your nails but also the skin around your nails? Does that signify you have a bigger problem on your hands?

What Is Dermatophagia?

The sufferers are termed as ‘wolf biters’ in medical lingo and doctors believe that Dermatophagia is related to OCD.

What is worrying is that biting of one’s nails is not compulsorily a response to a stressful situation for Dermatophagia patients, but becomes more of an obsession that results in compulsive biting till the skin starts to bleed.

And yes, while the bleeding skin hurts, a patient who truly suffers from Dermatophagia still feels a moment of gratification for having given in to the compulsion to bite and tends to believe this is the ideal coping mechanism for stress relief. As is obvious, biting of the skin can cause severe (sometimes permanent) damage, which is why proper diagnosis and timely intervention are crucial.

Are YOU Suffering from Dermatophagia?

There is nothing wrong with biting on that occasional hangnail when a pair of clippers is not handy. It may not be the most hygienically safe way to deal with that ‘excess’ skin, but that doesn’t mean you are a ‘wolf bitter’.

So, here we list the top 5 signs that warrant you could be suffering from Dermatophagia

Discolored Skin – You think that you only tend to bite your nails and the surrounding skin when in a tense situation. But in your line of work, stress is an everyday factor. So look closely at your nails; if the skin around the nail looks discolored by perpetual biting that causes scars, you need to seek help.

Skin damage –If your fingers look like they are fit to be featured in a horror movie, with excessive skin damage and scarring around the nails, you have taken that occasional ‘nail biting’ a tad too far. Think carefully, why are you biting your nails and surrounding skin so often? What are your feelings at the time? Are you consciously doing this to quell anxiety which could signify you have OCD, or is this something you do subconsciously when lost in deep thought?

Bleeding – Sufferers of Dermatophagia are no strangers to bleeding skin. If you are just a normal person who was gnawing at an annoying hangnail but somehow managed to nip the skin and ran to get first aid, everything is fine. But if you constantly bite at your skin and ignore the bleeding wounds just because it provides momentary stress relief, you need to find help.

Calluses and Hangnails – Has biting your nails and skin constantly resulted in ugly calluses on your fingers? If your fingernails look disfigured from obsessive biting and chewing and this has also made you prone to skin infections, you have a serious problem at hand. Ignored, this can result in permanent tissue damage.

Excessive Biting in Stress – You stopped biting your fingernails and surrounding skin because the calluses and scars on your hands started to embarrass you. Yet, in a stressful situation, you have an uncontrollable urge to bite so you resort to self-biting your lips, inside of your mouth and cheeks. Your mouth may bleed, and you know you are inflicting pain upon yourself, yet you feel compelled to continue and at least are relieved that no-one but you will ever find out.

If the above mentioned 5 signs seem a little too familiar, you are suffering from Dermatophagia.

While it isn’t all that hard to give up self-biting nails and surrounding skin by using simple deterrents like foul tasting nail varnish, behavioral therapy and sometimes even mouth guards, make sure that you seek treatment to address the real cause behind your condition.

Dermatophagia can be the reason behind your low self worth, lack of confidence, low self-esteem and embarrassment.

Together, these aggravate the condition in a patient, and can truly wreck havoc on your mental health. What could have started as a minor case of OCD can soon turn in to severe depression, and this is why seeking medical help immediately is important.

Also Read: Are You Developing An OCD?

96 Comments Add yours

  1. devin says:

    can i like, talk to someone about this. i read it all (after i picked my finger til it bled, on a couple fingers, looked this up and saw i do it all, then i started biting my mouth) and i was just saddened because its all me. i feel i do have low self worth in some situations and it just all adds up. now i feel i wont stop biting til i become more self worthy. I dont have low self esteem ( i thought ) and i feel once that low feeling goes away i can stop picking my skin around my nails and biting the skin in my mouth, which causes another problem for me i think. my mouth around my chin is discolored and i hate it and i think its from biting. i just want to talk about why i do that and maybe itll help me stop.


  2. Sharon says:

    I’ve been a biting my fingers and hands since I was about 4. I remember thinking my fingers looked chubby and thought if I chewed my fingers I could make them skinny. after that I couldn’t stop doing it and I’m doing it now at 39. I stopped while I was pregnant but started up again when baby was about 9 months and it’s seems worse than ever. I’ve spoken to my GP and she suggested I see a psychologist to get to the root of why I do it, work out what the triggers are and work out how to manage it. I’ve always been anxious and a bit of a worrier. I am also a daydreamer and bite a lot when I’m zoned out. Seems like this sort of personality is common in wolf biters. Good to find out I’m not alone though I wouldn’t wish this on anyone!


    1. cafackl93 says:

      Gold to hear I’m not the only one who bites when day-dreaming.
      I’m in medical school and I have been biting for 15 years.
      I see a psych for it, take Zoloft, have tried every “no-bite” bitter nail stuff, and still can’t shake it…after many attempts.
      My psychiatrist always asks what I’m doing/thinking about when I bite…and it seems to be driving, day-dreaming, studying, or spaced-out.


      1. Kathy says:

        I have been doing this all my life. When I was two year old I would chew on my toes. I did this all the time, then my fingers. I am 64 years old now and so that is a lot of chewing. As I was reading this I was chewing the whole time, I chew when I watch TV, I chew on the computer, I chew all the time. I use Neo-sporian on my fingers when I need to to heal them. I used Vasoline and hand cream at night too, but I always find a place to chew. But the skin grows back harder and therefore I re-chew and pick. And on my lip too. I do have OCD, Depression and Anxiety. I am on Prozac for two decades. My Aunt also had this, and we are all nervous people.


  3. LAKSHMI says:

    I am 38. I experience the same problem. Unconciously i bite my fingers (nails and opp skin) with tension. When i am thinking i am not able to manage others unreasonable torchers i am biting myself fingers. I know it is not good for my health. This type of problem will damage my health. But i don’t know how to stop this. Any body can give advice. pls help me to come out of this problem.



  4. miss unhappy says:

    I’ve been biting since I was a little girl now I’m almost 40 ,I find that when I’m unhappy& there’s a lot on my mind I tend to bite even more.I do suffer from mental illness bipolar disorder and severe depression ,I’ve never shared this with my therapist ,I try to hide it the best way I can not realizing it was a sickness …HELP!!!


  5. Marisol says:

    It’s crazy to think that I suffered soo much that I was biting my fingers so badly..especially after I had my daughter..I didnt know why I was doing it..but I was really really bad. I remember when my coworker asked me about my fingers and aske why..I didnt have an answer because during the time I was so numbed with stress. After a long day at work I’d sit in front of the TV and just bite away smh..
    I can only thank god..he got me through it..mental Ilness runs like crazy in my family. today my fingers look normal nothing.
    Again god got me through it
    I was blinded while I was going through it..but I thank God everyday..he helped


  6. I’ve been biting the skin around my nails as long as i remember. Also many times i chew on the insides of my mouth and sometimes even the dry skin of my heels.

    I’m stressed most of the time. This stress comes mostly from not doing what i think i should be doing (doing my best for saving the world/myself).

    Coffee, sugar and other improper foods are part of the problem, making me stress, making me restless. I need to be in peace with myself and with the world for being able to do work for the world.

    It’s pretty clear to me now that this work in practice (for the near future) is to write a book and do youtube videos. As soon as i get to really start my work, i don’t have stress about not doing my part, i just do it and be happy that i can help.

    What i need is self disclipine and determination. I’m so close to actually starting my new life, life free from addictions, life without stress. Me and my woman are having a baby when spring comes and that motivates me A LOT to try harder.

    I have to feed her/him too and also think about his/her future. This is my story why i eat my fingers/stress and how i can get rid of it. The keys are: meditation, yoga, proper diet, exercise, the right people and environment, certain kind of information.

    When these are in place, my life will just flow the way it should. I will do lot of study and write the book and then i can be proud of myself 🙂


  7. adelina93 says:

    I’ve been biting hangnails since I was a little girl now I’m 23 and I still bite hangnails mostly I do it when I’m bored but still im not a horrific hangnail bite since my fingers don’t bleed and I don’t consider biting my hangnails as a problem even saliva as they get covered in it when I bite them I don’t notice it I just leave it until it dries anyway hope that anyone who struggles manages to quit the habit BEST OF LUCK TO EVERYONE!!!


  8. FTG says:

    Hi This is so strange, i feel so much of an urge to bite my finger nails and to pick at my toe nails to the extent that they are painful when i walk, but despite all that the urge to continue just continues to grip me. I dont know why i cant stop this habit.. Even when i am not stressed at all, my first best entertainment is my nails.. i dont understand it though…..


  9. iNOFEARu says:

    I chew the bits below my nails (the hits on the same side as the parmof your hand does this mean I have it


  10. Sissy says:

    So, I notice that I pick and eat the skin around my nails when I’m zoning out, stressed, thinking, or just bored. It doesn’t really scar my hands or make them as horrific as the images I’ve seen but they do bleed and I’ve had some drip down my fingers. I’m around 14-16. Is this something I should consider talking to my parents and doctor about? There isn’t any discoloration and I’m not embarrassed by my hands but there are times where I have five or six open wounds healing on my fingers. I think I have small calluses but that may be from playing clarinet… I also bite my nails when I’m biting the skin.


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