What is mysophobia?
Mysophobia is an extreme fear of germs. It causes an overwhelming obsession with contamination. The condition goes by other names, including:
What are phobias?
It’s natural to fear situations that seem dangerous or uncomfortable. You may also get anxious about things that can affect your well-being, like foods that make you sick. But these situations rarely disrupt daily activities. Phobias cause more intense feelings. Phobias cause abnormal thoughts and behaviors that are difficult to control.
Do I have mysophobia?
When living with mysophobia, you’re constantly worried about germs. You may go out of your way to avoid:
- Contact with other people’s body fluids.
- Dirt, dust, mold and other substances associated with germs.
- Contaminated food.
- Items and surfaces when you don’t know whether they’re clean.
What are some other mysophobia facts?
Mysophobia is a specific phobia, meaning that it’s due to a particular situation. People with mysophobia may also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD take comfort in repetitive, irrational thoughts and urges.
It’s also common to have more than one specific phobia. In people with mysophobia, this may include:
- Ataxophobia: Fear of untidiness.
- Microphobia: Fear of small things.
- Nosophobia: Fear of disease.
- Thanatophobia: Fear of death.
- Zoophobia: Fear of animals.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the causes of mysophobia?
Genetics and your environment raise the risk of specific phobias, including mysophobia:
- Genetics: A family history of anxiety disorders increases the likelihood of phobias. It’s also possible for obsessive-compulsive disorder to run in families. But having a family history doesn’t always mean these issues will affect you.
- Environment: Emotional trauma related to germs or uncleanliness can cause mysophobia. It could stem from a loved one who got sick or died from a contaminated environment.
What are mysophobia symptoms?
When you’re living with mysophobia, you’re constantly thinking about germs. Exposure to and thoughts of germs cause behavioral changes and physical responses.
Behaviors that can affect your daily life include:
- Washing your hands often, several times in a row, or for an unusually long time.
- Always wearing gloves to prevent contact with germs.
- Avoiding social situations, even when they include loved ones.
- Covering items you use daily, such as remote controls or the steering wheel of your car.
- Minimizing time in public areas, including restrooms, grocery stores and restaurants.
- Returning home immediately if you fear you’ve been exposed to germs.
- Taking multiple showers a day.
- Using hand sanitizer every time you touch an unfamiliar surface.
Mysophobia can also make you unwell, with symptoms that include:
- Brain fog.
- Frequent bouts of crying.
- Rapid heartbeat (palpitations).
Diagnosis and Tests
How is mysophobia diagnosed?
Healthcare providers typically diagnose a specific phobia like mysophobia in a single office visit. Testing isn’t necessary. Instead, healthcare providers ask you about your symptoms and changes in your behaviors.
Questions may include:
- How often do you think about germs?
- Have you experienced a traumatic event related to germs?
- How do germs make you feel?
- Is mysophobia is causing behavioral changes that affect your happiness or daily routine?
- Do you have a personal or family history of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder?
- Are you avoiding people or places you used to enjoy due to fear of germs?
Management and Treatment
How can I overcome mysophobia?
A common mysophobia treatment is exposure therapy. Working with your mental health provider, you explore the reasons behind your fear of germs. This is the first step in overcoming mysophobia. When you feel comfortable, your therapist gradually exposes you to situations where germs may be present.
Therapy starts with low-risk exposures, such as thinking about germs. As you progress through treatment, exposures become more significant. You may touch unsanitized objects or start spending more time in public places. With successful treatment, you learn how to manage negative thoughts and feelings.
Can other treatments help me cope with mysophobia?
Additional treatments may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Undergoing CBT helps you address why germs make you uncomfortable. You also learn methods for regaining control when these thoughts get overwhelming.
- Medications: Drugs don’t cure mysophobia. But antidepressants can help with mood disorders, and anti-anxiety medications may help you cope in a stressful situation. If you’re anxious about going out in public, medications may help.
- Stress reduction: Yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques quiet an overactive mind. This can make it easier to think positive thoughts instead of always bracing for the worst.
Is there anything I can do to prevent mysophobia?
If you have anxiety or OCD, it’s important to find healthy ways of managing your thoughts and reactions to germs. Doing so may lower the risk of these situations escalating into a phobia.
It’s also possible to lower the risk of mysophobia by taking good care of your mental health. You can do this by:
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for people with mysophobia?
Exposure therapy and other treatments can help you overcome your fear of germs. You may find the behaviors that used to make you feel better are no longer necessary. This makes it easier to go about your daily life. You may still be more sensitive to germs than other people, but you’ll know how to cope with exposures without fear replacing rational thoughts.
What else is important to know about mysophobia?
When you’re living with mysophobia, you may be stuck in unhealthy behavior patterns. You may also feel powerless to change them. It’s possible to overcome your fear of germs. You’re more likely to be successful when you undergo treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have an abnormal fear of germs, you may have mysophobia. You shouldn’t have to live your life in fear of exposure. Germs are always present, but they don’t always cause disease. Your healthcare provider can help you explore your feelings and learn healthy coping methods. This process can take time. But know that many people successfully overcome mysophobia.
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