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What Are Germaphobes Afraid Of? Symptoms & Causes

Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022

Germaphobes are afraid of germs—bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms—and have a pathological fear of contamination and infection

Germaphobes are afraid of germs—bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms—and have a pathological fear of contamination and infection. 

During the pandemic, there has been an increase in cases of germaphobia. Fortunately, there are ways you can manage and overcome a fear of getting infected or sick. Learn about symptoms, causes, and when to seek help.

What are the signs and symptoms of germaphobia?

Symptoms of germaphobia may include:

  • Excessive hand washing or sanitizing
  • Obsession with cleanliness
  • Extreme worry about getting infected

Behavioral symptoms may include:

  • Refusing to use public restrooms 
  • Refusing to touch doorknobs
  • Refusing to shake hands with anyone
  • Refusing to share personal belongings with others
  • Constantly using products, such as hand sanitizers or soaps, which, in large quantities, are known to make one more susceptible to infections

Furthermore, some people with germaphobia may have symptoms that resemble panic or anxiety, such as:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Fast heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating

Germaphobia can have a significant impact on your life. In some cases, germaphobia can lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

What causes germaphobia?

The exact cause of germaphobia is unknown. According to researchers, it is primarily caused by stressful life events or extreme cleaning compulsions, which are frequently taught behaviors from parents or close relatives.

  • Traumatic event: Past events or traumatic experiences are often linked to germaphobia.
  • Family history: Germaphobia is more common in children with one or more parents who have a phobia or anxiety disorder.  
  • Environmental factors: Hygiene practices that someone is exposed to as a child may contribute to the development of germaphobia.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): One of the features of OCD is an urge to wash your hands constantly due to a fear of germs. To determine whether this behavior indicates germaphobia or OCD, a full medical evaluation is required.

What are treatment options for germaphobia?

Treatment for germaphobia is similar to treatment for other phobias: therapy: medications, or a combination of the two.

Therapy

Psychotherapy or counseling is the most widely accepted treatment for germaphobia treatment. The goal of treatment is to identify the source of the fear and develop healthy coping techniques. There are two major types:

  • Exposure therapy: The purpose of this therapy is to expose you gradually and repeatedly to the thing you fear and to change your response to it. 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of psychotherapy combines exposure treatment with other strategies to help you control your thoughts and emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them. 

Medications

Germaphobes may be prescribed medications for a short period of time. These drugs are similar to those given to persons who suffer from depression and anxiety. These include: 

  • Beta-blockers that inhibit the stimulating effects of adrenaline, such as increased heart rate, trembling, and high blood pressure 
  • Sedatives that help alleviate anxiety by relaxing or calming the body.

Medications are not suggested for long-term usage because they can have negative side effects and do not address the underlying cause of the phobia. These medications should only be used under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes may help you cope with germaphobia by reducing anxiety: 

  • Meditation: Practicing mindfulness can help you train your mind and body to cope with worries and alleviate phobia-related symptoms.
  • Relaxation techniques: Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, visualization, and other techniques have been shown to reduce anxiety associated with phobias.
  • Exercise: Working out regularly at least 30 minutes a day increases the production of “feel-good” hormones in the brain, resulting in decreased anxiety.

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How can germaphobes cope with the coronavirus crisis?

During the pandemic, fear of being infected can exacerbate germaphobia symptoms. Here are some tips for coping with the dread of COVID-19:

  • Remember that you cannot control everything: While you have some control over your actions, you have little control over the outcomes. You can follow the rules, practice social distancing etc., but you may still get sick. Accepting the fact that you can’t control everything can be freeing and help you let go of stress.
  • Avoid reading or watching the news too much: Reduce your exposure to information about COVID-19. According to studies, constant exposure to news about the coronavirus pandemic only increases the worry and fear about getting sick. Pick specific times of day to watch the news or read updates, and keep in mind that not everything you see may be true.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022

References

Image Source: iStock Images

WebMD. Cleanliness Rules Germaphobes’ Lives. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/cleanliness-rules-germaphobes-lives

Kyrios M. Getting to grips with germaphobia. Psychlopaedia. https://psychlopaedia.org/health/getting-grips-germaphobia/

Grace’s Blog. Mysophobia: The Fear of Germs and Dirt. https://sites.psu.edu/gracesibleyrcl/2020/02/24/mysophobia-the-fear-of-germs-and-dirt/

Strosberg S. Society Is Becoming Germaphobic. Let’s Not Stay That Way. Undark. https://undark.org/2020/05/28/dont-stay-germaphobic/

Matsuura A. Coping with germaphobia in a pandemic. The Daily Universe. https://universe.byu.edu/2020/05/13/coping-with-germaphobia-in-a-pandemic/

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