Germaphobia (Mysophobia): Signs, Causes, and Therapy

The phrase “germaphobia” will get lobbed round maybe greater than another phobia-related time period—particularly within the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s used colloquially to justify numerous (usually abnormal) germ-evading behaviors, from utilizing hand sanitizer steadily to declining a sip from another person’s beverage.

For somebody with true germaphobia (aka mysophobia, the worry of germs), although, it’s not so informal. “Whereas it is regular to be involved about germs and observe good hygiene, germaphobia entails an awesome, usually irrational worry that results in important misery or impairment in social, occupational, or different necessary areas of functioning,” explains Evan Vida, PsyD, a postdoctoral fellow on the Middle for Anxiousness & Habits Remedy who focuses on nervousness problems, together with phobias. An individual’s germaphobia might manifest as extreme showering or hand washing, refusing to the touch or see different folks for worry of germs, avoiding public restrooms in any respect prices, or feeling the necessity to wash garments after carrying them for even a short while.

“Germaphobia causes important misery and disrupts regular actions, not like a manageable concern about cleanliness.” —Alexander Alvarado, PsyD, scientific psychologist

On this post-pandemic age, nonetheless, the road between vigilant and germaphobic can appear a bit tough to parse. (Who didn’t undergo a “sanitizing groceries” section in 2020?) Right here, specialists break down germaphobia, together with know if you happen to or somebody you already know is a germaphobe, what to do about it, and when to hunt assist.

What are the signs of germaphobia?

“Germaphobia manifests as an intense worry of germs, resulting in extreme washing or cleansing and avoiding locations thought of ‘soiled,’” explains Alexander Alvarado, PsyD, a licensed scientific psychologist at Thriving Middle of Psychology, whose experience contains utilizing digital actuality publicity remedy to deal with phobias.

Somebody with germaphobia will expertise intense nervousness on the considered germs or being contaminated with germs, go to nice lengths to keep away from them, and interact in cleansing rituals to take away potential contact, Dr. Vida says. These behaviors could lead folks to distance themselves from others, really feel incapable of doing each day actions, or cope with different secondary results—for instance, dry and irritated pores and skin as an impact of over-washing arms.

Particular phobias like germaphobia are thought of to be a sort of tension dysfunction; it’s also frequent for phobias to coexist with different temper problems, similar to generalized nervousness or despair, in line with the Mayo Clinic.

These are all particular signs of germaphobia to look out for:

  • Intense nervousness or worry on the considered germs or the potential of being contaminated with germs
  • Going to excessive lengths to keep away from germs
  • Participating in cleansing rituals to take away potential contact with germs
  • Bodily emotions of tension, together with sweating, fast heartbeat, tight chest, bother respiratory, shaking or trembling
  • Social isolation

Methods to inform the distinction between a normal dislike of germs and germaphobia

There are some distinct variations between germaphobia and only a normal dislike of germs. It’s cheap to not need to share respiratory area with somebody who has a chilly, or to really feel the necessity to wash your arms after touching one thing soiled. You might also be apprehensive about how soiled your cellular phone case is or if hand sanitizers work. However this isn’t essentially germaphobe territory, specialists say.

“The important thing distinction between germaphobia and a normal dislike or concern about germs lies within the depth of the worry and its impression on an individual’s life,” Dr. Vida says. He says that germaphobia entails a worry that’s “overwhelming” and may considerably impression an individual’s life. “For instance, if somebody is unable to carry out their job or maintain their child on account of worry of germs, that’s an instance of serious impairment and trigger for extra deliberate intervention,” he says.

Dr. Alvarado agrees that impression on each day life is the perfect indicator: “Germaphobia causes important misery and disrupts regular actions, not like a manageable concern about cleanliness,” he says.

What causes somebody to be a germaphobe?

The analysis is blended as to what causes germaphobia, says Tirrell De Gannes, PsyD, licensed scientific psychologist on the Thriving Middle of Psychology. Some professionals consider it stems from a historical past or traumatic occasion that concerned interacting with unhealthy germs (and, normally, turning into in poor health), he says. (For instance, somebody might be able to hint their germaphobic behaviors again to a extreme case of meals poisoning they’d as a child.) Others suppose it’s a results of generalized nervousness or theorize that it’s a subset of obsessive-compulsive dysfunction (extra on that, beneath).

Typically, the trigger is multifaceted and may embrace a mix of environmental elements, private experiences, and a predisposition to nervousness problems, Dr. Alvarado says.

For instance, a private or household historical past of tension problems can enhance your possibilities of growing a selected phobia1, Dr. Vida says. And girls, basically, usually tend to have a selected phobia than males, in line with the Nationwide Institute of Psychological Well being. “In the end, like most psychological situations, there’s a mix of each nature and nurture [at play],” Dr. Vida says.

What’s the distinction between OCD and germaphobia?

There are just a few variations between germaphobia and obsessive-compulsive dysfunction (OCD). OCD is a psychological well being situation wherein folks expertise recurring intrusive, undesirable ideas—and to eliminate them, they usually really feel pushed to do one thing repetitively, in line with the American Psychiatry Affiliation (APA). OCD is distinct from germaphobia, however the two can completely overlap, Dr. Vida says. Actually, analysis exhibits that OCD and particular phobia generally coexist2.

“OCD generally entails obsessional fears of contamination from germs and measures to keep away from contact with contaminants,” Dr. Vida says. This cluster of OCD signs is typically known as contamination OCD3. Nevertheless, not everybody with OCD has these signs. The situation can embrace a variety of signs, and germaphobic behaviors are simply one of many methods OCD can manifest, Dr. Gannes says.

The important thing distinction between germaphobia and OCD may be present in the kind of feelings skilled and the behaviors carried out to cope with them. For phobias, the dominant feelings are worry and nervousness, whereas OCD usually presents with different major feelings4, similar to disgust and disgrace. “In OCD, there are normally repetitive, ritualized behaviors to stop or take away contact, similar to washing arms excessively, in a specific vogue, or another motion that will not be immediately associated to the worry, similar to touching a sure object to stop the event of an sickness,” Dr. Vida explains.

On this sense, OCD behaviors can usually contain extra “magical considering”—actions that aren’t logically related with the worry however that somebody believes will, on this case, shield them from germs. “The compulsions in OCD are sometimes actions we really feel pushed to carry out despite the fact that we acknowledge them as mindless or extreme,” Dr. Vida continues. “Somebody with a phobia could not have intrusive ideas and can shield themselves in ways in which seem extra logically related.” For instance, somebody with OCD could really feel they should wipe a doorknob six occasions with the intention to be shielded from germs, whereas somebody with a phobia could merely be insistent that the doorknob be cleaned instantly and infrequently.

Is germaphobia a psychological dysfunction?

Strictly talking, there’s no itemizing for germaphobia within the Diagnostic and Statistical Handbook of Psychological Issues (DSM-5-TR), the authoritative information well being professionals use to diagnose psychological problems. That’s to say, it’s not a psychological dysfunction in itself.

Nevertheless, if a worry is irrational and severely impacts one’s life, it may be categorized as a “particular phobia.” Particular phobias are “extreme and protracted worry of a selected object, scenario or exercise that’s usually not dangerous,” in line with the APA. Particular phobias, as talked about earlier, are acknowledged throughout the spectrum of tension problems within the DSM-5, Dr. Alvarado says.

Germaphobia may additionally be a symptom of one other DSM-5 analysis, similar to OCD or sickness nervousness dysfunction, Dr. Vida says. So, whereas germaphobia itself isn’t named as a selected psychological dysfunction within the DSM-5, it may undoubtedly be thought of one if it falls beneath the analysis of particular phobia, OCD, or one other nervousness dysfunction.

How is germaphobia identified?

Diagnosing germaphobia entails a complete psychological analysis to know how germ-related behaviors impression your each day functioning and to find out in the event that they align extra intently with OCD or one other nervousness dysfunction the place worry of germs is a predominant concern, Dr. Vida explains. “An analysis may help distinguish the general feared consequence of germ contamination, whether or not it’s the potential of the particular person themselves growing an sickness, or probably spreading an sickness to another person.” Within the case of emetophobia (worry of vomiting), for instance, a worry of germs is solely a symptom of the true worry of throwing up.

There is not a “take a look at” to diagnose germaphobia; a psychological well being skilled will usually ask you about your signs and the way they’re affecting you. They could ask how germs make you’re feeling, for instance, how usually you concentrate on them, or when you have a household historical past of sure psychological well being situations like nervousness or OCD.

How is germaphobia handled?

Efficient therapies for germaphobia embrace cognitive behavioral remedy, publicity remedy, and typically medicine to handle nervousness signs, Dr. Alvarado says. Right here’s just a little extra about all three.

Cognitive Behavioral Remedy

Cognitive-behavioral remedy (CBT) is a type of psychological therapy that entails altering your considering patterns, in line with the APA. Principally, you’d work with a therapist on methods that provide help to problem the ideas and beliefs that contribute to your germaphobia. CBT probably the most researched remedy strategies, and there’s ample scientific proof5 exhibiting that it helps scale back signs in particular phobias. “Some of these fears are very attentive to CBT interventions,” Dr. Vida says, “so count on to realize management of your life in a comparatively quick period of time.”

Publicity Remedy

Publicity remedy is a typical a part of CBT therapy for particular phobias and nervousness problems, Dr. Vida says. “This entails working very steadily and collaboratively with a therapist to confront your fears and take a look at and problem ideas associated to germs,” he explains. This would possibly seem like getting you to only discuss germs, or take a look at photos of belongings you really feel are notably germy. Then it would stage as much as one thing like touching a floor after which not washing your arms and seeing how that feels. By steadily and safely exposing your self to what you’re terrified of, you’ll be able to be taught to handle your response to it. There’s numerous promising analysis6 on publicity remedy for phobias, and new expertise is making it simpler than ever with digital actuality.

Medicine

CBT and publicity remedy are typically pretty profitable in treating phobias, however there are occasions and locations when medicine may help, Dr. Vida says. In case you endure from extra generalized nervousness, medicine could be a useful software to handle these signs. Beta-blockers or sedatives may additionally be utilized in short-term conditions the place it’s essential to face a worry (suppose: happening a airplane or to the hospital), in line with the Mayo Clinic.

Dealing with germaphobia

In case your psychological well being signs are interfering together with your means to reside your life, it’s a good suggestion to hunt skilled assist. Germaphobia may be debilitating and oftentimes requires the additional assist and the coaching of an skilled to deal with. However if you happen to’re not sure if what you are coping with falls into full germaphobe territory, there are some issues you’ll be able to attempt at dwelling to start out managing extra delicate signs.

Experiment with testing your fears (safely)

Contemplate these phrases of knowledge from Dr. Vida: “Deal with your fears as hypotheses to be examined, not reality,” he says. “Attempt to problem your self by creating small experiments to check out these hypotheses.” For instance, if you happen to really feel compelled to clean your arms after touching any gentle change in your house, contemplate attempting, simply as soon as, to skip it, and see what occurs. (Almost certainly, nothing unhealthy!) These little wins may help you slowly re-think what’s value worrying about and regain energy over your fears.

Attempt mindfulness methods

If you’re feeling anxious or fearful, mindfulness methods may help you discover ways to handle these emotions within the second and scale back avoidance behaviors. Current analysis means that sluggish diaphragmatic respiratory can assist scale back stress and nervousness signs7 in folks with nervousness problems (together with phobias). Rest methods may also assist, Dr. Alvarado says. This may embrace deep respiratory or progressive muscle leisure, which may help you address the bodily signs of tension and stress.

When to see a physician

In case you’ve tried DIY methods with little success, it’s time to see a physician or psychological well being skilled. Discover a therapist, like a cognitive behavioral therapist, who may help you create a plan and stroll you thru accomplish your objectives, Dr. Vida says.

Even if you happen to haven’t tried self-treating your germaphobia, when your fears begin to considerably impression your life, it’s signal to see an expert, Dr. Vida says. Anxiousness and phobias are very treatable, and there’s no must “white-knuckle your means by life, albeit with a major quantity of ache and struggling,” he says.


Nicely+Good articles reference scientific, dependable, latest, sturdy research to again up the data we share. You’ll be able to belief us alongside your wellness journey.


  1. Goodwin G. M. (2015). The overlap between nervousness, despair, and obsessive-compulsive dysfunction. Dialogues in scientific neuroscience, 17(3), 249–260.

  2. Pallanti, S., Grassi, G., Sarrecchia, E. D., Cantisani, A., & Pellegrini, M. (2011). Obsessive-compulsive dysfunction comorbidity: scientific evaluation and therapeutic implications. Frontiers in psychiatry, 2, 70.

  3. Ludvik, D., Boschen, M. J., & Neumann, D. L. (2015). Efficient behavioural methods for decreasing disgust in contamination-related OCD: A assessment. Medical psychology assessment, 42, 116–129.

  4. O’Connor, Okay., & Audet, J. S. (2019). OCD is Not a Phobia: An Various Conceptualization of OCD. Medical neuropsychiatry, 16(1), 39–46.

  5. Sheilla Varadhila Peristianto, Kamsih Astuti (2022). Lowering Signs of Particular Phobias With Cognitive Habits Remedy. Malaysian Psychological Well being Journal, 1(1): 12-14.

  6. Hasan, S., Alhaj, H., & Hassoulas, A. (2023). The Efficacy and Therapeutic Alliance of Augmented Actuality Publicity Remedy in Treating Adults With Phobic Issues: Systematic Evaluation. JMIR psychological well being, 10, e51318.

  7. Banushi, Blerida et al. “Breathwork Interventions for Adults with Clinically Recognized Anxiousness Issues: A Scoping Evaluation.” Mind sciences vol. 13,2 256. 2 Feb. 2023, doi:10.3390/brainsci13020256


Germaphobia (Mysophobia): Signs, Causes, and Therapy

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