Don’t pick that booger! Boogers — the dried, crusty pieces of mucus in the nose — are actually very beneficial. They protect your airways from dirt, viruses, and other unwanted things that float in when you breathe.

Mucus actually lines your entire respiratory system, from your nose and throat to your lungs. You may not think about the work mucus does until you’re suddenly coughing up phlegm or blowing it out of your nose onto a tissue.

Boogers are drying mucus that contains trapped dirt and debris. The tiny hairs in your nose, known as cilia, move that drying mucus from your nasal cavity to the front of your nose, where it can be blown out — or yes, picked.

Boogers are natural. Noses create them every day, and they’re rarely anything to be concerned about.

If you develop dry, bloody boogers, though, you may be seeing signs that the mucus or skin that lines your nasal cavity is irritated and infected. In that case, you need help from a doctor to treat an underlying problem.

In most cases, picking your nose is a safe method, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you go spelunking in your nasal cavity:

  • Use a tissue. Boogers are full of germs. To keep those pesky pieces of dried mucus from passing unwanted things to your hands (and then to your mouth or eyes), wrap your roving finger with a tissue.
  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water. Your fingers can introduce germs that could make you sick. Then, once you’re done digging for gold, wash your hands again. No sink and soap? Hand sanitizer will do in a pinch.
  • Don’t pry. If you feel a particularly persistent booger, don’t cram your finger in deeper. You may do more harm. Instead, try to loosen up the booger a bit first. You’ll read more on that in the next section.
  • Blow your nose. If you’re not one to pick apart your nose contents, you can try blowing your nose. The steam of a hot shower may make the boogers more flexible, too. Grab a tissue, and give a toot. The contents may come out the other side.
  • Don’t use a cotton swab. While they’re sleek and thin enough to make entry, you could do some damage to your nose and sinuses with those tools. That’s because it’s hard to gauge how deep you’re going.

Removing a scablike booger

From time to time, those sticky blobs of mucus turn into crusty cling-ons. They may have sharp edges and hang to your nose hairs. Removing them is painful — and potentially problematic.

When mucus dries to the walls of your nasal passages, it can stick to the delicate mucosa. When you go to remove it, you may get more than you bargained for. Ripping that skin could cause a nosebleed. You might also invite infection.

If you sense you have a clingy boogie, soften things up a bit.

Using a saline solution for nasal irrigation or a neti pot is common when you have congested sinuses. They help moisten mucus and sweep it away, either down your digestive system or out your nose. For boogers, they’ll help loosen them up and move them along on their journey.

Use either tool one to two times per day, or until you’ve been able to free the booger. Remember, it’s important to use tissues and wash your hands before and after.

If the booger still won’t budge, see a doctor. You may have a structural issue, like a nasal polyp, that’s preventing you from getting a clean sweep.

If the boogers in question aren’t in your nose, you can remove them using the same steps: Gently try to pluck them with a tissue-covered finger. Be careful to not cram too far or push too hard.

A saline spray will moisten stubborn pieces of dried mucus so they may come free more easily. But in young children, consider using a bulb syringe.

That’s because infants and young children might have a hard time blowing out the contents of their noses. A bulb syringe will suck it out.

Boogers are pieces of drying mucus that contain trapped dirt or bacteria. These contaminants come into your nasal passages when you breathe. Your body is trapping those irritants to prevent them from getting to your lungs, where they could cause bigger problems.

Boogers may also form if your environment changes dramatically. For example, dry environments may irritate your nasal passages. This can lead to excess booger development, and the pieces may be particularly dry and sharp.

If you’re sick with a sinus infection or head cold, you may develop more boogers, because your body is producing excess mucus.

You don’t want to stop your body from creating boogers. They serve a very important purpose.

But if you think your production outpaces anyone else you know, you can consider trying to prevent dry mucus. After all, the more dry mucus you have, the more boogers will form.

These techniques may help:

  • Use a humidifier. These devices fill your room or home’s air with moisture. You, in turn, breathe it in and dampen your mucus. This may be especially important in the winter, when heaters tend to have a drying effect on indoor air.
  • Drink plenty of water. If you’re dehydrated, your mucus is dry, too. Drink adequate water to keep booger production slow.
  • Wear a mask. Environmental irritants like smog, exhaust fumes, or chemicals from work may irritate your sinuses. That can lead to increased mucus production.
  • See a doctor. If you tend to fill several tissues with mucus or snot every day, you may want to see a doctor. Some conditions, like allergic reactions and nonallergic rhinitis, may cause extra mucus buildup in your nasal passages. Likewise, sinus infections may cause more mucus.

It’s OK to pick your nose, but there are times when you should resist the urge. For example, don’t cram your digits up your snout until you wash your hands — and wash your hands after, too.

Stubborn, stuck-on boogers may need a little more coaxing before they’re willing to part ways with the delicate lining of your nasal cavity. If you pull too hard, you could cause a nosebleed, and that makes you susceptible to an infection.

If your boogers persist despite your efforts to sweep them away or prevent them, see a doctor. An underlying issue may be responsible for your prolific nose buildup.