Phobias Types What Is Mysophobia? By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on April 11, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Armeen Poor, MD Medically reviewed by Armeen Poor, MD Armeen Poor, MD, is a board-certified pulmonologist and intensivist. He specializes in pulmonary health, critical care, and sleep medicine. Learn about our Medical Review Board Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. 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The condition is also known by other names including: GermophobiaBacillophobiaBacteriophobiaVerminophobia The phobia is often linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but people who don't have OCD can have it as well. The phobia is believed to be fairly common and can affect people from all walks of life. This article discusses the symptoms, diagnosis, causes, and treatments for mysophobia, It also covers some of the things that you can do to cope with this type of phobia. Symptoms Common symptoms of mysophobia include behaviors that are used to avoid exposure to germs or contamination. These symptoms may include: Avoiding places that are thought to contain a lot of germs or dirtExtreme fear of becoming contaminatedExcessive hand washingObsessing over cleanlinessOverusing cleaning or sanitizing products If you have mysophobia, you may experience certain symptoms when you are exposed to dirt or bacteria. Such symptoms can include: CryingHeart palpitationsShakingSweating These symptoms may occur only when the object of your phobia is visible, as is the case when digging in a garden, or when you believe that germ contact may have occurred, such as when shaking hands with someone or using a doorknob. You may take multiple showers each day. You might carry and use hand sanitizer frequently. You may be unwilling to use public restrooms, share food, or take public transportation. Recap Mysophobia can lead to a number of behavioral and emotional symptoms such as avoidance, anxiety, and physiological signs of fear and panic. Diagnosis It is important to note that mysophobia is not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Instead, it would be considered a specific phobia if the symptoms meet a specific set of diagnostic criteria. To be diagnosed with a specific phobia, symptoms must lead to: Avoidance or extreme distress Immediate anxiety responseUnreasonable or excessive fear Additionally, these symptoms must affect a person's ability to function normally in different areas of their life. The symptoms must not be caused by another mental disorder and the symptoms need to be present for six months or longer. If you or a loved one are struggling with mysophobia, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for a Specific Phobia Complications Because people with mysophobia fear germs carried by others, the condition can lead people to avoid social situations. You might avoid expected gatherings such as work parties, holiday get-togethers, and meetings. When you do participate, you may find yourself avoiding physical contact and sanitizing your hands more frequently. Over time, these behaviors can lead to isolation. Your friends and relatives might not understand, and they could perceive you as hostile or even paranoid. You could develop social phobia, in which you begin to fear contact with others. How to Overcome a Fear of Social Situations Causes The exact causes of mysophobia are not entirely clear, although a number of different factors are believed to play a role. Some things that can increase the risk of developing a phobia such as mysophobia include: A family history of anxiety, depression, or other phobiasExperiencing a traumatic event that causes a person to become overly focused on germs, dirt, or contaminationHaving obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) Mysophobia and OCD Mysophobia is thought to be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent, and unwanted urges or images that cause distress or anxiety. These obsessions may intrude when you're trying to think of or do other things. Obsessions often have themes, such as: A fear of contaminationA need to have things orderly and symmetricalAggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or othersUnwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects One of the most common symptoms of mysophobia is frequent hand washing, which is also a common symptom of OCD. However, the motivation for handwashing is different. Mysophobia vs. OCD People with OCD are compelled to relieve the distress they experience as a result of the non-completion of the act itself, while people with mysophobia are compelled to complete the act specifically to remove germs. The difference is subtle, and many people experience both conditions, so it is important to see a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis. The Difference Between Disorder and Normal Anxiety Treatment Fortunately, mysophobia can be successfully managed. It is important to visit a mental health professional as soon as possible since the condition tends to worsen over time. Treatments that your therapist may recommend include medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Medication Medications are not usually prescribed on their own to address specific phobias such as mysophobia. However, sometimes medications may be prescribed to help manage some symptoms or to treat co-occurring mental health conditions. Medications are most effective when they are used in combination with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Depending on your therapist’s orientation, you may be encouraged to explore the root of the phobia, or you may simply be taught how to manage the symptoms. There are a number of types of therapy that can be used to help treat phobias, but two of the most effective approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying and changing the negative thought patterns that contribute to the phobia. Exposure therapy focuses on gradually and progressively exposing people to the source of their fear. Over time, people are able to learn to relax and the fear response begins to lessen. Online therapy may be another option you might want to consider. Online therapy has been found to be effective in the treatment of a number of mental health conditions. Studies also suggest that virtual reality exposure therapy can be just as effective as real-world exposure therapy. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Coping In addition to getting professional treatment, there are other self-help strategies you can use to help find relief. Some techniques you might want to try include: Deep breathing Getting regular exercise Getting enough sleep Gradually exposing yourself to your fear Lowering caffeine intake Meditation Mindfulness practices Yoga You may also find it helpful to join a phobia support group where you can discuss resources and coping strategies with people who have had similar experiences. Check with local resources to see if there are any groups in your area or look online for available resources. A Word From Verywell Mysophobia can create significant distress and disruption in your life, but it's important to remember that effective treatments are available. Talking to your doctor is a good place to start, but you can also practice coping strategies on your own that will help relieve stress and anxiety. If you think that you may also have OCD, see your doctor or a mental health professional for a diagnosis. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help you find relief and improve your overall well-being. Talk Therapy as a Treatment Option for Phobias 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Robinson JM, Cameron R, Jorgensen A. Germaphobia! Does our relationship with and knowledge of biodiversity affect our attitudes toward microbes? Front Psychol. 2021;12:678752. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.678752 Fischer S, Haas F, Strahler J. A systematic review of thermosensation and thermoregulation in anxiety disorders. Front Physiol. 2021;12:784943. doi:10.3389/fphys.2021.784943 University of Pennsylvania. Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. Specific phobias. Meier SM, Deckert J. Genetics of anxiety disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019 Mar 2;21(3):16. doi: 10.1007/s11920-019-1002-7 University of Pennsylvania. Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eaton WW, Bienvenu OJ, Miloyan B. Specific phobias. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(8):678-686. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30169-X Wechsler TF, Kümpers F, Mühlberger A. Inferiority or even superiority of virtual reality exposure therapy in phobias?-A systematic review and quantitative meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials specifically comparing the efficacy of virtual reality exposure to gold standard in vivo exposure in agoraphobia, specific phobia, and social phobia. Front Psychol. 2019;10:1758. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01758 Zaccaro A, Piarulli A, Laurino M, et al. How breath-control can change your life: A systematic review on psycho-physiological correlates of slow breathing. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:353. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353 By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Phobias Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.