Nail biting is a common problem for children and adults

¦ My nine-year-old daughter has recently started to bite her nails.

Last night she was upset and when I looked at her hands she had bitten down some of the nails so far that two of them were bleeding. What should I do?

>> Nail biting in children is a very common problem and many of them will find it very hard to stop the habit. It is estimated that 20-33% of children between the ages of seven and 10 years and 45% of adolescents will bite their finger nails at some point.

In most cases, it is of cosmetic concern only. However, it can lead to damage to the nails and the nail beds and infections which can then spread to the mouth.

There are two ways to approach this. Firstly, as this is a recent habit, try to find out if there is a reason for it, try to talk to her teacher and ask if there are any problems at school. Are there any stresses or over-stimulation at home that she might be aware of ?

It would also be useful to observe your daughter and identify if she bites her nails at the same time of day, if so could this be due to boredom? If boredom is the reason then try to divert your daughter’s attention perhaps to reading a book or helping to prepare a meal. You could also make time when you will not be disturbed, to talk to your daughter about the habit and if she knows why she has started to bite her nails.

Secondly, there are a number of preparations on the market with an unpleasant taste, which can be painted into the nail to discourage biting. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on the most suitable one.

When the nails start to grow again, keep them neat and short so that your daughter is less likely to start biting them. There is an effective alternative to the problem; to ask your daughter to bite on a rubber piece when she feels the urge for nail biting or when feeling anxious.

It is important to seek advice from your GP if the above measures fail.

¦ I’ve changed job recently and am using a laptop more than ever. At night time my neck and shoulders feel very painful and I sometimes need to seek relief by taking paracetamol or codeine to ease the pain. Is there anything I can do?

>> As the pain has coincided with the change in your job, the two are likely to be connected.

One possible reason for the pain may be bad posture and you could try the following:

¦ Check that your sitting position at your desk is good, sit upright — don’t sit with your head forward and a sloped/curved back.

¦ Try to use only one pillow in bed which should be firm and support your neck.

There are two ways to tackle this simultaneously:

1. Visit your GP for advice on the management of the neck pain with painkillers such as anti-inflammatory, home exercise, and referral to see a physiotherapist.

2. Ask your company’s occupational health officer to carry out an ergonomic evaluation of your work station, your HR department can help to arrange this.

In the meantime you could:

¦ Organise your work station so that you have enough space to carry out your work tasks safely and effectively. Incorporate the use of ergonomic aids as much as possible to reduce strain.

¦ Examine your posture regularly. Place a ‘post-it’ somewhere visible with ‘POSTURE’ written on it as a reminder to yourself — you will be amazed at how often you slouch.

¦ Vary your work tasks as often as possible and take regular breaks, especially if you are inactive for long periods at a time. Get up from your desk and stretch/ walk for a few minutes at least every hour.

¦ Move and shift position frequently.

I am sure that your GP will be able to advise you about the most appropriate management of the pain.


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