It’s normal to have a healthy respect for dirt and germs, and most people take steps to keep their homes and bodies clean. But for people with a condition called mysophobia, a healthy fear of dirt and germs becomes a preoccupation. What is mysophobia and what causes a person to have it?
What is Mysophobia?
Mysophobia is an intense fear of dirt, germs, and contamination. So strong is a misophobe’s fear of dirt and germs that they’ll avoid situations where they could come into contact with anything “dirty” – and perform rituals such as repeatedly washing their hands or using hand sanitizers to avoid contact with anything unclean. Needless to say, this can have a major impact on their lives - and lead to marked avoidance behavior – all in an effort to avoid contact with the dirt and germs they intensely fear.
The Signs and Symptoms of Mysophobia
The signs and symptoms of mysophobia stem from the desire to avoid contamination. A person suffering from mysophobia may spend a great deal of time cleaning and disinfecting personal and household items – and are usually reluctant to share items with others - or even shake someone’s hand. This can lead to avoidance of social situations.
Not surprisingly, the activities of a mysophobic person can become quite restricted. Some even go so far as to wear a surgical mask when they go outside to avoid being exposed to germs. They may be unable to use public restrooms – or be in the same area with someone who’s coughing or sneezing.
When a person with mysophobia comes into contact with anything unclean, they can experience marked anxiety symptoms such as shaking, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, nausea, and sweating – or even outright panic attacks.
What is Mysophobia: It May Be Ritualistic
Mysophobia shares something in common with obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition where a person does certain things in a repetitive, ritualistic manner and feels marked anxiety when they’re unable to perform their ritual. For a person with mysophobia, this can take the form of ritualistic hand washing, bathing, washing clothes, scrubbing, or disinfecting items to remove dirt and germs. A mysophobe can be so fixated on performing these tasks that it takes over their life. In extreme cases, they become socially isolated and have few friends or acquaintances.
What is Mysophobia: What Causes It?
No one understands completely what causes intense fears or phobias such as mysophobia. Sometimes an experience during childhood or adulthood brings on a phobia, like mysophobia. Usually, this happens in a person who already has some underlying problems with anxiety, and the event serves to focus their anxiety onto something specific – such as dirt and germs.
A person susceptible to phobias may have some underlying chemical imbalance in their brain that makes them more prone to fear and anxiety. There seems to be both a genetic and an environmental component to phobias such as mysophobia.
Is Mysophobia Curable?
It’s important for a person with mysophobia to seek professional help. Without therapy, it’s unlikely the symptoms will go away. Cognitive - behavioral therapy, hypnosis, and sometimes medications may be effective in treating this disorder. The key is to get help – and not try to deal with it alone. The best place for a mysophobe to start is with their doctor who can usually refer a misophobe to a counselor who can help them find ways to better deal with their symptoms.
Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease: October 1905 - Volume 52 - Issue 10 - ppg 617-626.
Journal of Mental Science (1896) 42: 387-388.