The term comes from the Greek “mysos” which means pollution and “phobos” which means fear.
The term misophobia was introduced by the American neurologist William Alexander Hammond, who describes a patient with obsessive compulsive syndrome who often washed his hands.
Pathological misophobia or germophobia is a fear of germs, bacteria, fungi, dirt, and most importantly, the fear of contamination with them.
Pathological fear or phobia is a type of abnormal and non-constructive situation for the person and is often accompanied by anxiety and agitation.
Normally a person realizes that there are many germs in their environment, that some bacteria are beneficial and others have negative effects on the body, viruses can be contracted and also treated.
But those who suffer from phobia cannot distinguish the line between what is good and bad for their bodies, considering that all the microparticles that surround them can cause them distress.
Misophobia is common among those with obsessive compulsive syndrome, among those with hypochondria (uncontrollable fear of illness), or among those with other phobias.
Most people experience some form of irrational fear or anxiety , and many are concerned about germs and diseases in particular.
Amid a flurry of movies and media news about antibiotic-resistant infections and life-threatening strains of the flu, it’s easy to understand why some people actively care about what they touch and breathe.
Causes of misophobia
No one knows exactly why people develop phobias, but mental health experts have developed some theories. Some believe that people are more likely to develop phobias that protect them from danger.
These phobias include germ phobias, fear of large animals, and fear of heights.
People who develop phobias can take these natural fears too far and react with extreme anxiety, putting them at risk when you think you are trying to avoid them.
The first experiences can also make a person more prone to developing a phobia.
Childhood illness, the death of a parent, or painful medical procedures can condition a person to fear germs and take extreme measures to avoid them.
Phobias also tend to run in families, they can be genetic or simply behaviors learned from parents. An unpleasant emotional experience that is more or less germ-related can trigger misophobia.
Also the presence of a disease throughout childhood or even the death of a loved one due to a pathogen.
In addition, external factors such as reports, books, images that contain information about germs and their danger can cause these types of phobias.
The main symptom of misophobia is an irrational fear of germs.
One person, for example, might be obsessed with a specific germ or disease, while another might fear germs and dirt in general.
Common behaviors associated with misophobia include:
- Compulsive hand washing.
- Excessive use of disinfectants and antibacterial soap.
- Fear of physical contact with other people.
- Extreme fear of getting sick
- Reacts with extreme fear to media reports of new diseases.
- Fear of certain public places such as doctor’s offices, hospitals, public transportation where germs or sick people may be present or confined.
When the individual is in an environment and believes that it can be contaminated, they may have episodes of nausea, dizziness, heart palpitations, uncontrollable fear, shallow breathing with tachypnea, exaggerated tremors.
Therefore, the misophobic will try to avoid environments that may compromise their hygiene.
Misophobia includes a series of behaviors, actions and habits of the person in the extreme case, everything he does to protect himself from germs and feel safe.
Among the events are:
- Excessive cleaning of clothes, hands, things in the environment.
- Avoid objects and places considered polluting such as using public toilets, touching door handles, using public transportation.
- Stubborn refusal to share personal items, food, clothing, or shoes.
- Avoid proximity or activities that involve humans or animals.
Fear of contamination can lead to refusal to shake someone’s hand, avoiding touching anything that has not been disinfected and possibly leading to social isolation.
Effects of misophobia
Misophobia doesn’t just inspire fear and avoidance. The phobia can be pervasive and alter the individual’s life. They may avoid going out in public, developing intimate relationships, or eating food they didn’t cook.
Because misophobia affects so much of a person’s life, it can lead to other mental health problems, such as depression , social isolation, and anxiety.
Avoiding germs completely can contribute to the development of health problems.
Overuse of antibacterial and disinfectant products has been implicated in the spread of new, resistant infections, and children who are not exposed to germs are more likely to develop allergies.
The cognitive behavioral therapy , which helps people to rethink and phobic intrusive thoughts, can be extremely beneficial.
Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy is a method that is often used to reduce misophobic effects.
This is based on the principle that people learn to change their thoughts, they learn not to overestimate the risk of being contaminated by germs and the result will be seen in their behavior.
Desensitization, a process by which a person is slowly exposed to a terrifying stimulus, is also highly effective.
Some doctors may prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help people with misophobia cope with their fears during treatment.
Some patients are also successful with hypnotherapy , often in just a few sessions. As a rule, phobias begin to manifest themselves in childhood and disappear in adulthood without further treatment.
On the other hand, conditions of this type are not resolved if they have started to mature, requiring professional help.