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Mysophobia (Fear of Germs) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last Updated: Dec 26, 2020

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What is Mysophobia?

Mysophobia (commonly referred to as germophobia/germaphobia) is the fear of germs. In this instance, germ refers to the microorganisms that can harm your body by causing a disease - bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Mysophobia has other names, including:

  • Germaphobia / Germophobia
  • Bacteriophobia
  • Bacillophobia
  • Verminophobia

Here in this article, we’re going to talk all about mysophobia.

Symptoms of Mysophobia

Phobia in medical terms defined as the irrational or excessive fear of something. There are some people who have an extreme fear of germs even more than the harm that the organism could cause. Someone with mysophobia will go to outrageous lengths in order to avoid contamination.

The symptoms of mysophobia are similar to other phobias, in this case, they’re triggered by the presence of microorganisms. The symptoms of mysophobia can be:

  • Extreme fear of germs
  • Intense urge to avoid germ-filled places
  • Sudden anxiety upon exposure to germs
  • Even thoughts of germ exposure can make a person sick
  • Refusing to share personal items
  • Avoiding crowd or animals
  • Washing hands more often
  • Spending more time cleaning and decontaminating
  • Difficulty functioning at work or social places
  • Relying on others to do their tasks that involve exposure to germs
  • Unwillingness to use public transportation or public washroom facilities

The physical symptoms can be :

  1. Increased heartbeat
  2. Sweating or Chills
  3. Shaking or Tremors
  4. Restlessness
  5. Muscle tension or fatigue
  6. Headache
  7. Difficulty in sleeping or relaxing
  8. Chest pain or tightness
  9. Nausea or Vomiting
  10. Light-headedness

In Children: Children who have fear of germs may experience symptoms depending upon their age, such as:

  • Clinging to or refusing to leave parents
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Nervous movements
  • Tantrums, screaming or crying

Causes of Mysophobia

Just like other types of phobias, the causes of mysophobia often relate to childhood or young adulthood. These are a few factors believed to be associated with the development of this phobia. These are:

  • Bad experience in childhood: Most people with mysophobia always related themselves or the beginning of this fear to a bad experience of their childhood.
  • Brain thinking mechanism: Your brain works in mysterious ways. It is yet to discover how people think or what motivates them to have an opinion about something. Sometimes the chemistry or thinking mechanism can be responsible for the fear that you feel.
  • The growing environment: If you are raised in a highly clean environment, imposed by your parents or elders, you’re more likely to be the one with mysophobia.
  • Family history: Phobias are proven to be genetically inherited. If your parents have/had mysophobia or any phobia for that matter, it can be the contributing factor to your condition. In a few cases, family history of depression or anxiety also played a role in phobia development.

Impact of Mysophobia on Lifestyle

The fear of germs is persistent enough to impact your day-to-day life, people with this fear might go to great lengths to avoid actions that could result in contamination such as eating at a restaurant.

They might also avoid places where germs are plentiful, such as public washrooms, buses or restaurants. Some places are harder to avoid, like school or work. In these places, actions like shaking hands or touching the door knob can lead to anxiety.


How to Diagnosis Mysophobia Issue?

‘Germaphobia’ is listed under the category of specific phobias in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Your health expert will take an interview and ask a few questions about your situation. The questions can be about your thoughts, reaction, family history and symptoms.

Your health expert then reviews those answers and compares them with the guidelines of DSM-5, just to see if you have or have not the phobia. The therapist or mental health expert will also ensure that the symptoms are not caused by any underlying condition like OCD or anxiety.

Treatment of Mysophobia

The objective of germaphobia treatment is to assist you with getting more OK with germs, in this manner improving your personal satisfaction. Germaphobia is treated with treatment, medicine, and self-improvement measures.

Therapy or counselling is one of the common procurement methods for your condition. During therapy, your therapist will expose you to the ideas that will help you in overcoming the fear. Some of the most important therapies that work for phobias are Cognitive Therapy and

Exposure Therapy. Exposure therapy, as the name suggests, is a method of therapy where the patient is exposed to their fears. The exposure of the patient is performed in a controlled environment in order to not trigger the extreme symptoms and make it worse. You will be put in various situations where you’ll face your fears minimally. The therapy is carefully designed by the therapist while keeping your condition and possible response in mind. As time passes, you’ll be more comfortable facing the fears.

Cognitive therapy is the next step after exposure therapy. In fact, it works well when combined with exposure therapy. In cognitive therapy, your therapist will teach you methods and techniques to cope up with your symptoms. After a period of time, you become comfortable with your fear and controlling symptoms.

Apart from that, your therapist might recommend a few medications for the symptoms. But the medication is never the solution hence the primary focus should be on the therapies that you go to.

How to Overcome From Fear of Dirt or Contamination?

A few changes in your lifestyle can help you with the situation. These are the techniques that can help you:

  • Practising meditation daily
  • Exercising and yoga
  • Eating healthy
  • Getting proper sleep
  • Join a support group
  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Learn a few stress-relieving techniques from your therapist
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help

Relation to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Sharing concern about germs or illnesses isn't necessarily a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). With the OCD, obsessions result in distress and anxiety. It results in compulsive and repetitive behaviour to provide some relief. Cleaning is common among the people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD).

The major difference is that individuals with the germaphobia clean in an effort to reduce germs, while the people with OCD clean to reduce their anxiety.

Additional Information on Mysophobia

Mysophobia is the fear of germs, but sometimes fearing the germs is not a bad thing. For example, it is fine to fear the germs during the flu season. The steps you take to prevent yourself from some contagious diseases is not a fear or phobia but prevention. Sometimes, people mistake their prevention with the phobia.

So, it is suggested that you review your habits and maybe talk to a few people about it. Try to control it if you’re overdoing it or seek help only if it’s beyond your control. In normal circumstances, you might be just too careful, not mysophobic.

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Content Details
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Written ByDrx Hina FirdousPhD (Pharmacology) Pursuing, M.Pharma (Pharmacology), B.Pharma - Certificate in Nutrition and Child CarePharmacology
Reviewed By
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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