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What is Mysophobia? The Fear of Germs and Dirt

Mysophobia – the fear of dirt – is gaining more and more ground every day. OK but first, is an extreme concern regarding waste and germs healthy? It’s normal to enjoy cleanliness but it isn’t normal for it to become an obsession.

Imagine if you could see all of the many microorganisms who live around us…many of us would freak out for sure.

Indeed, a little fear is normal because it allows us to become aware of possibly dangerous situations and safeguard ourselves. However, a fear that exceeds the threshold could be pathological.

This is the case of phobias, defined as an irrational fear a person feels towards something or someone. The fear of dirt or mysophobia, a condition that causes distress to people who experience it, is one of them.

The fear of getting sick from germs and bacteria is incapacitating in those with this disorder. OK, so what are the symptoms? Are there any easily recognizable behaviors? Continue reading for some answers to these questions.

What is the fear of dirt or mysophobia?

The word mysophobia comes from the Greek word myso, which means “filth,” and phobos, which translates as “fear.” Thus, mysophobia is the fear of filth.

William Hammond, a neurologist, discovered this phobia in 1879 and many other physicians have tried to address this phenomenon since then.

Even the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud tried to understand what this type of phobia is about. In fact, Freud referred to misophobia citing the case of a woman who washed her hands up to a hundred times a day and, for fear of dirtying them again, opened door latches by pushing them with her elbows, in one of his texts.

Mysophobia can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Actually, some people tend to wash their hands several times a day, excessively, and focus their attention on dirt and body odors, as they fear filth.

This phobia has different degrees as some are only afraid of microbes and bacteria, while others are afraid of anything that may be contaminating. The latter are usually those who end up isolating themselves.

The behavior of a person with mysophobia

A person experiencing this disorder is usually guided by an obsessive pattern of cleanliness. As a result, they frequently wash their hands, up to 50 times per hour at times.

They also try to disinfect everything around them, avoid touching objects, and may even use gloves to do so. Likewise, they’re extremely clean at home and try not to touch anything others touched, such as doors in restaurants, handles, seats in the subway, etc.

People with mysophobia also prefer to eat at home because it’s the only way they can be sure that food is clean. Also, because, by doing so, they avoid contact with others.

After visiting certain places, these people are also often afraid of touching their clothes, so they take them directly to the laundry.

Causes of Mysophobia

There are several factors associated with this condition, such as hereditary factors, traumatic experiences in the past, having received a rigid education in regard to cleanliness, or the simple panic of getting sick because of an infection.

However, this condition isn’t pleasant for those who experience it. This is because they don’t actually feel good about their cleaning rituals. As you can see, the symptoms of misophobia are quite unpleasant.

The Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Choking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness of the extremities
  • Fear of not being able to control oneself
  • Suffocation
  • Shivering
  • Excessive orderliness
  • An increased heart rate
  • Social withdrawal

Many people consult a specialist to get therapy and change their lives when they can no longer stand the symptoms of misophobia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common and allows them to understand what the phobia consists of in order to progressively correct their misconceptions.

In other cases, it’s possible for the patient to undergo exposure and response prevention therapy so as to confront their fears. Furthermore, relaxation techniques, meditation, and other practices that help to calm anxiety are also effective.

In any case, the physician should be the most qualified person to determine the best option for a given case. In addition, they should be able to prescribe any pharmacological options if necessary.

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