Mysophobia is an extreme fear of germs and bacteria. It is commonly called germaphobia. People with mysophobia may go to great lengths to avoid contact with anything that could be contaminated, which might include other people as well as objects.
The fear of germs can significantly affect a person’s quality of life, as they may be unable to participate in many activities or socialize with others.
If a person has mysophobia, treatments such as exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful. They work by helping a person confront their fears and identify and change their underlying thoughts and behaviors.
This article provides an overview of mysophobia, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Mysophobia is an intense and irrational fear of the following:
- any other contaminants
It is a type of
Mysophobia goes by various other names, including:
Mysophobia is different than a general dislike of being dirty. People with mysophobia may go to extreme lengths to avoid anything that could be contaminated. This can make everyday activities very difficult, as even coming into contact with common objects can cause severe anxiety.
People with mysophobia can have excessive thoughts, or obsessions, that lead to repetitive behaviors or compulsions. This condition is called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person with this condition may obsessively clean their body and home or avoid touching anything they believe may be contaminated.
Doctors do not fully understand what causes specific phobias such as mysophobia. A combination of factors may play a role,
- Trauma: A traumatic event, such as a severe illness, can trigger germ-related fears.
- Family history: Phobias may have a genetic link, with multiple family members having similar fears.
- Environmental factors: Certain beliefs or practices about cleaning or germs can predispose a person to mysophobia.
- Brain chemistry: Certain changes in the brain’s chemistry may contribute to a person developing phobias.
The symptoms of mysophobia can vary from person to person. However, they usually include obsessions about cleanliness. Other symptoms can relate to anxiety and panic about germs or fear of contamination.
Some people may only experience mild anxiety, whereas others may have more severe panic attacks that negatively affect their quality of life.
Mysophobia can bring on various physical symptoms of anxiety, including:
- shortness of breath
- dry mouth
- muscle tension
- heart palpitations
- feeling faint
- numbness or pins and needles
As anxiety becomes more severe, people may also experience psychological symptoms, including:
- intrusive thoughts
- fear of losing control
- fear of dying
- detachment from reality
Experts classify mysophobia as a specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR). This manual is a guide for mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, and it includes specific criteria that a person must meet for a diagnosis.
For a doctor
- have a persistent and intense fear of an object or situation, such as germs
- experience disproportionate anxiety or panic when they face the object or situation
- have symptoms that have lasted for at least 6 months
- experience disruption to at least one major area of life
- not have another mental health condition that better accounts for the symptoms
There are no specific tests to diagnose mysophobia. Instead, a mental health professional will ask a person about their symptoms and how these affect their life. They may also ask whether there is a family history of anxiety disorders or phobias.
The goal of treatment for mysophobia is to reduce anxiety and help a person learn to manage their fear. The treatment usually includes psychological therapy and medications.
Behavioral therapy is one of the
Behavioral therapy involves gradually and gently bringing a person into contact with the thing they fear until they no longer feel anxious. This is called exposure therapy.
Doctors also use CBT to teach people techniques to deal with anxiety. These might include:
- breathing control
- alternative thought processes
Gradually, people learn to manage their anxiety through therapy until they no longer feel fear.
Beta-blockers can help control the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heart rate and trembling. Antidepressants may take several weeks to work, but they can be helpful for people with severe anxiety.
It is important to note that medication is not a cure for mysophobia and that people will need to continue with therapy to manage their symptoms.
A person with mysophobia may find it helpful to seek treatment from a mental health professional. A counselor, friend, family member, or support group can help the person cope with their anxiety by providing emotional support.
People with mysophobia may also benefit from relaxation techniques, such as:
In addition, regular exercise may help reduce stress and anxiety.
Mysophobia is a specific phobia that causes intense anxiety and fear of germs. People with mysophobia may experience physical and psychological symptoms when they perceive a threat of contaminants, such as germs.
The treatment for mysophobia typically includes behavioral therapy and medication. With treatment, people can learn to manage their anxiety.
Anyone experiencing a fear of germs should seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide a diagnosis and work with the individual to develop an effective treatment plan.