Mysophobia is a phobia—an extreme fear—of germs or contamination. The central feature of this phobia is not just concern about germs but an obsessive fear of any kind of contamination, including by illness, dirt, body fluids, or bacteria.
Germs and contamination do pose some danger, and so a reasonable fear of germs cannot be construed as mysophobia. A fear of germs only becomes a phobia when it is both unreasonable and interferes with normal activities. A person who washes their hands more than normal may be unreasonably cautious, but if hand washing does not interfere with normal life or the fear of germs does not cause them discomfort or stress, then the frequent hand washing is not properly construed as mysophobia.
In recent years, the use of antibacterial products has become increasingly common. Some mental health professionals believe that this increased awareness of germs has increased the frequency with which people develop mysophobia. Ironically, the overuse of such products can actually create antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are much more dangerous.
Symptoms of Mysophobia
To be diagnosed with mysophobia, a person’s avoidance of germs cannot just be eccentric. It has to interfere with one or more life activities or threaten the person’s health. Common traits associated with mysophobia include:
- Obsessive hand washing
- Avoidance of places perceived to be full of germs or contamination
- Fixation on cleanliness
- Overuse of sanitizing products
- Fear of one’s children becoming contaminated; for example, by refusing to allow visitors to interact with a baby
Treatment for Mysophobia
Mysophobia can have obsessive-compulsive elements, and some people with this phobia also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Therapy designed to treat OCD, therefore, can also help some people with germ phobias. A combination of education about the risks of overly sanitized environments, exposure therapy, and psychotherapy designed to address any underlying causes can be helpful. Some people with mysophobia benefit from hypnosis or the use of anti-anxiety medications.
- Carmin, C. N. (2009). Obsessive-compulsive disorder demystified. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.
- Mysophobia. (n.d.). Epigee.org. Retrieved from http://www.epigee.org/mental_health/mysophobia.html
Last Updated: 08-12-2015
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Acsa D.July 16th, 2016 at 6:32 PM
is there any diagnostic tools for mysophobia beside the symptoms?
GizleMarch 5th, 2017 at 5:15 PM
I once washed my hands 7 times until I felt like they were completely clean, from touching someone’s hair (I had cuts afterwards). One time I had a panic attack from my brother smearing chicken broth on me with his bear hand. It was personally very disgusting on both occasions & more.
Sherif TMarch 22nd, 2017 at 8:54 PM
I think I have this condition or disorder. I used to wear rubber gloves and a mask because of the fear of disease. I’m back to wearing gloves. As soon as I can I will buy a full mask not just a mouth and nose piece like before. I now wear long sleeve shirts when I leave my home, boots, and long pants. I’m afraid to shake a persons hand. To kiss someone even on the cheek. If I have a cut I tend to freak out. I’m a blood donor and I get very nervous after giving blood. In case I come up positive for any disease. I’m stricken with anxiety just thinking about being contaminated. I don’t want to get a job that won’t allow me to be as cautious as I’d like either. I’m afraid to even touch or kiss my girlfriend because she’s not as cautious as I am…I think it’s reasonable to be so afraid of germs. Especially if you live in a highly populated area. But what can I do to help future employers understand that I’m not crazy. I’m just afraid of sickness and disease. Can I have a doctors note as an excuse? Can I be prescribed medication for this anxiety issue?
germs are grossOctober 4th, 2018 at 7:14 AM
i always use a whole small hand sanitizer bottle after toching a public door knob
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