Ablutophobia is a specific phobia in which individuals have an irrational fear of bathing or washing. It can affect children and adults and is more common in women than men.

People with specific phobias know that their fears are not realistic, but they are unable to address them. Instead, they try very hard to avoid what it is that makes them afraid.

In this article, we look at the definition of ablutophobia and the symptoms that it causes. We also examine the different treatments that can help people with the condition live more conventional lives.

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Ablutophobia is a fear of bathing or washing. It can cause a significant amount of distress and have a negative impact on day-to-day life.

People with ablutophobia are afraid of washing, bathing, or showering.

Bathing is a vital part of life for both medical and social reasons. For most people, bathing is a pleasant, daily routine. For people with ablutophobia, however, it can be terrifying.

With treatment, many people with ablutophobia can live productive lives with their phobia under control.

The American Psychiatric Association estimate that 7–9 percent of adults in the United States have a specific phobia, such as a fear of spiders or arachnophobia. It is possible to develop a specific phobia about almost anything.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia, children tend to develop specific phobias, such as ablutophobia, between 7 and 11 years of age.

Specific phobias are twice as common in girls as in boys, and they affect about 16 percent of teens and 5 percent of younger children.

Lack of washing can have some important consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that washing the body, hair, and face regularly, along with frequent hand-washing, is an excellent way to prevent the spread of diseases and conditions, including chronic diarrhea and lice.

Americans tend to be frequent bathers, with 66 percent taking a shower at least once a day and only 7 percent bathing once a week or less.

The symptoms of ablutophobia are quite different from the difficult behavior of a cranky child who does not want to take a bath or adults who are not too picky about their grooming habits.

The most prevalent symptom of ablutophobia is fear. This fear is not based on any realistic dangers associated with bathing. The fear is also persistent, which means it lasts for a long time, usually more than 6 months.

Physical symptoms associated with ablutophobia include:

  • racing pulse
  • difficulty breathing
  • feeling faint or light-headed
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling suddenly hot or cold
  • shortness of breath
  • shaking or trembling
  • dizziness
  • sudden sweats
  • dry mouth
  • nausea

As well as the fear that people with ablutophobia experience, they may also feel disconnected from reality and detached from their bodies. They may be afraid that they will:

  • have a nervous breakdown
  • pass out or faint
  • lose control
  • die

Often, one of the ways people try to deal with distress is to avoid the situation that triggers it. For people with ablutophobia, that means trying to avoid bathing and washing, which can lead to different problems for health, well-being, and social acceptance.

Consequences

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Ablutophobia may cause social isolation and low self-esteem. In some cases, alcohol or drug dependency may develop.

People who avoid bathing due to ablutophobia can get into trouble at work or school and may become socially isolated and depressed.

Their self-image and self-esteem can suffer. Children with ablutophobia can face a greater risk of bullying, particularly as they approach their teen years.

There is a risk that some individuals may try to deal with their fear with drugs or alcohol, which can lead to problems of chemical dependency.

Experts have yet to determine the cause of specific phobias, and for ablutophobia, in particular.

Environmental factors

Many think a genetic factor may contribute to the development of the condition, along with environmental factors and individual developmental experiences. At times, it can be difficult to tell where the impact of genetics ends and upbringing takes over.

For example, if someone in the family has a bathing phobia and a child develops the same behavior pattern, it could be because there is a genetic link. Or, it could be because the child has seen the behavior modeled by a key family figure.

Trauma

Some people may develop ablutophobia after a frightening or traumatic experience with bathing or water, such as a brush with drowning or an abusive family situation.

It is also possible for people to develop a specific phobia, such as ablutophobia, after learning about some tragic or dangerous event associated with the trigger. One example would be a news story about someone getting hurt in a freak accident in the bathtub.

Therapy and medication have both been found to be effective in treating people with this condition.

The first step will usually be to see a doctor to check no medical problems are causing the issue.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

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Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective form of treatment for phobias.

Therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help people change the way they monitor, think about, and respond to their feelings and the world around them.

Individuals can learn how to manage their emotional reactions, which will help them live with ablutophobia and bring it under control.

In general, cognitive behavioral therapy helps about 75 percent of people with specific phobias find relief.

Medications

Medications can sometimes be used to treat specific phobia. This is especially the case when other forms of therapy have been ineffective, or someone has other psychiatric issues that require separate treatment.

Anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines, and antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to provide relief from symptoms.

Exposure therapy

Facing one's fears by exposure to what it is that is causing the phobia is done in a planned and gradual manner. In doing this, individuals patiently follow a series of steps that bring them closer and closer to what frightens them.

A person with ablutophobia might first simply turn a shower on, or step into a shower fully clothed, and gradually work up to more complete and longer bathing experiences.

Management

Self-care practices, such as meditation, exercise, and avoiding caffeine, can help people keep symptoms of ablutophobia in check.

They can also practice other self-help techniques to manage their fears and prevent relapses, but treatment is usually an essential first step.

It is vital for children with ablutophobia to get treatment. Without treatment, there is a possibility that their phobia could stick with them and, perhaps, become worse.

Fact-based explanations and loving support from parents are not, on their own, enough to make the problem go away. However, with professional help, children with phobias can learn healthy ways of dealing with their fears.