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What is Mysophobia?

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: jen2008 • updated: 8/19/2010

What is mysophobia? Like other fears and phobias, mysophobia can make life frightening and anxious for a person unfortunate enough to suffer from it. Find out exactly what this condition is - and what causes it.

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    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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease: October 1905 - Volume 52 - Issue 10 - ppg 617-626.

    Journal of Mental Science (1896) 42: 387-388.