Have you heard about mysophobia?

Have you heard about mysophobia?

It disrupts the daily lives of those affected and makes a simple handshake difficult. What is this phobia?

What is mysophobia?

Mysophobia is a permanent and irrational fear of being in contact or contaminated with dirt, germs, sweat or body odour. Due to its pervasive and disproportionate nature, this fear goes beyond normal concern for cleanliness or the expected worry about the risk of infectious transmission.

This fear belongs to a family of phobias, hence its name, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, called OCD.

People affected

Mysophobia particularly affects anxious people.

People affected by this have an extreme preoccupation with hygiene. For example, they repeatedly wash their hands, take several showers a day or avoid touching door handles.

Causes of mysophobia

Mysophobia is often caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. A shock, contamination or exposure to bad body odour in childhood could be the root cause of the trauma that led to mysophobia.

Risk factors for developing mysophobia also include brain damage, heredity or a penchant for perfectionism that continues to worsen.

Symptoms of mysophobia

Symptoms can be psychological, physical and behavioural and vary in severity depending on the affected person:

  • Unreasonable fear or belief of being contaminated
  • Obsessive concerns
  • Psychological distress
  • Ritual washing or cleaning
  • Avoidance of public spaces (public transit, public washrooms)
  • Refusal to have contact with others.

Consequences of mysophobia

Mysophobia can have long-term mental or physical health consequences and impact other areas of life as well.

The most noteworthy include:

  • Anxiety and secondary panic attacks
  • Mood swings, depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Chronic pain (abdominal, headache)
  • Inability to perform certain daily tasks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Absenteeism at work.

Treatment

People who suffer from mysophobia often have an altered level of negative self-criticism about their situation.

If you or a loved one has noticed an increased fear of contamination or dirt that is starting to impact daily life, it is helpful to know this condition is treatable. Do not hesitate to talk to your doctor or a health professional who will take the time to assess the situation with you.

The most common treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy. This short-term therapy technique aims to replace negative ideas and inappropriate behaviours with thoughts and reactions more in line with reality.

Anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed in some cases.