Myso is the Greek word for germs and Phobos means fear. Thus, Mysophobia is the excessive and often irrational fear of microbes or getting contaminated with germs. Mysophobia is also known as germophobia.
People with an excessive fear of germs believe the world to be a ‘filthy place’ and may develop obsessive-compulsive disorders. As a result, they are always washing or cleaning well beyond a concern with cleanliness. They are known to spend major parts of their day doing these activities over and over.
Mysophobics may also spend vast amounts of money on buying cleaning products and exposing themselves more than necessary to the harmful chemicals which many of them contain.
It is important to note the difference between ‘being tidy/orderly’ to being a Mysophobe. A Mysophobic individual is mainly concerned with contamination and sterilization as unlike a tidy person who would only clean surfaces to ensure there is no dust.
Many people with the extreme fear of germs also tend to think about microbes all the time. They fear getting contaminated from dirt, dust, grime or people who are sneezing or coughing. The more often a Mysophobe falls sick, the likelier s/he is bound to believe the need to clean. This can severely impact one’s daily functioning.
Causes of the fear of germs phobia
- Mysophobia usually stems from an Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD. The sufferer feels the need to wash his/her hands frequently, which is one of the characteristics of OCD. Naturally, in case of Mysophobia, the motivation to frequently wash stems from the fear of microbes unlike that in the OCD where it is more of a matter of following routine. That being said; most patients are known to suffer from both conditions. A thorough medical evaluation is hence necessary to determine if it is Mysophobia or OCD.
- Heredity and genetics are believed to have a strong link to the fear of germs phobia. Children with an obsessive-compulsive parent or caregiver are more likely to become Mysophobes.
- Additionally, a traumatic (personal or witnessed) event in the past or sometimes even a random event can trigger Mysophobia.
- Media, learning about germs at school or getting sick after coming in contact with germs can reinforce one’s belief’s about microbes to the extent that the individual learns to excessively fear germs.
Symptoms of Mysophobia
Depending on the level of fear, different symptoms may be seen in the individual:
Physical symptoms of a panic attack (in what is perceived to be the presence of germs) such as shaking, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, rapid and irregular heartbeat etc are seen in people suffering from the excessive fear of germs. The patient is also likely to indulge in unreasonable behavior or actions like:
- Washing frequently and excessively.
- Refusing to use public bathrooms.
- Avoiding all kinds of social activities or places that include coming in contact with ‘germy’ people or animals.
- Refusing to share personal items like combs, brushes, or food with anyone.
Gradually, the individual may impose many restrictions upon himself including refusing to touch the doorknobs directly or shaking hands with anyone, as well as constantly using products like hand sanitizers or soaps, which, in large quantities, are (paradoxically) known to make one more prone to infections. Thus, Mysophobia can severely impact one’s occupational, social and familial activities.
Treatment for fear of germs
- A combination of therapies is recommended for treating phobias like Mysophobia and anxiety disorders like OCD. These include drugs, cognitive behavior therapy, exposure and gradual desensitization therapies as well as relaxation training.
- Exposure therapy consists of helping the phobic relearn how to encounter germs gradually until he is able to refrain from washing his hands. The individuals also learn to focus on calming techniques and develop the ability to remain in a ‘contaminated environment’ without having a panic attack.
- Cognitive behavior therapies help the person with a fear of germs change his attitude and thoughts about them. This involves writing down negative and positive thoughts such as “I fear I will die from germs” to “Germs are sometimes healthy and useful to us” and so on. The patients are then asked to decide on beliefs that are healthier and useful to them.
Germs are a necessary part of our lives and for a person with excessive fear of germs; life can be very stressful and complicated. However, there is hope and many treatment options that can help one heal completely from Mysophobia.
Please help me identify what I’m dealing with. Since childhood, I’ve always been very sensitive to seeing and smelling dirty things. Let me give you an example. I’m sharing an apartment with two people who don’t really care about hygiene. When I see our stove is unclean, I don’t want to use it anymore – the same with the fridge, plates, and kitchen utensils. The dirt keeps flashing in my mind whenever I try to use it. Just recently, my roommate vomited in the sink. Since that day, I have never used the sink again. It’s not my intention to feel this way, but I can’t really help it. I find it too gross. Please help me identify what it is. Thank you.
Hi, I need your help,
So I go to high school, and every time my friends and I go to the cafeteria to have lunch or just our normal breaks, I feel shivers down my spine when I have to imagine sitting at the table.
My friends always sit down, and I am disgusted by the thought of touching the chair/table with my bare skin, especially when I see dirt such a crums or any kind of food leftovers like ketchup on the table.
I can never bring myself to sit at the table unless I clean it myself, and even then, I can’t eat at peace, constantly thinking about the dirt that might touch my skin/clothes.
It’s the same with my bag. I HATE to lay it on the floor because of the same mentioned reasons, and I always make sure to place it either on someone else’s bag or on the table (I prefer to hang it up, though.)
Can someone help me and tell me what this could be? Because it REALLY messes me up.
Is it just me, or is the entire world now suffering from this account of the unending (and never going to end) pandemic? I know I have always been slightly germophobic, but now I won’t even open my mail until after it has been “quarantined” for a week. Leaving my house is completely impossible.
Hi Paul, no, it’s not just you. Hope you were able to cope with it in the meantime. We got the same issues and are still impatiently waiting for vac in the EU. It’s so damn hard.
Myself, I am a person who probably wouldn’t be *too* worried about germs, but what makes me, in practice, a full blown germophobe is the fact that, I’ve learned time and time again, you can’t trust other people.
I probably wouldn’t worry too much about touching doorknobs, for example, if I could just trust people to have reasonably clean hands when they touched them before me. But, everywhere I go, I see people NOT take care of keeping their hands reasonably clean. People will not wash their hands after using the bathroom, people will take out the trash without washing their hands afterwards, for example. Some people even rummage through the trash (why they do this, who knows). People will touch their shoes, even the bottom of their shoes without washing their hands afterwards. People will drop stuff on the ground, even in public where there are abundant patches of bird droppings, for example, and pick it up (sometimes putting the thing they dropped right in their pocket!) and carry on without washing their hands. Some people, in public, or even at home, when they toss their trash into a garbage can, instead of tossing it from a foot or so away, so that their hands don’t make contact with the garbage can, they will put their hands right in the garbage can in the process of throwing out their trash.
I could go on and on and on listing disgusting behavior that people do on a regular basis that make it so that their hands aren’t clean. And, this isn’t just, say, a few rare, particularly abnormal and disgusting individuals who do this. It’s the vast majority of people I see!
Now, because I know that some people (and actually the *vast majority* of people) don’t take care to keep their hands clean, and these people open the various doorknobs that I need to touch, I have to assume that every doorknob is almost certainly dirty as a result. And so, I have to use precautions when touching doorknobs (even the doorknobs of my apartment). I have to either wear gloves, or open doorknobs with my sleeve, or wash my hands multiple times after touching doorknobs.
It would be so nice to live in a world where we could trust people to be clean, and it would free me from lots of obsessive hand washing and other precautions. But, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Since I can’t control other people’s behavior, of course, all I can do is go through life taking extreme steps to keep myself clean.
Omg this is me to an absolute T! It is exactly my thought process. I have to put all this pressure and work on myself to stay clean because most other people are not and have these filthy habits which we have more heightened sensitivity to. The sad thing is because most people are like the way you describe and fewer are like us, that we often have to expend so much more time and effort rectifying their situation for ourselves to feel comfortable. How do you deal with it in general? Do you feel as though it takes up a lot of your time and would you like to feel otherwise about it, so that you can stop worrying so much?
Germs won’t kill you. You can’t avoid germs, poop, pee, etc. If you try, your life will become terrible trying to dodge things because almost everything is contaminated, and you will start doing fewer things like staying in more and not enjoying life. Do ERP therapy. It’s the gold standard for helping overcome OCD. I’m currently doing it.
I have an overwhelming fear of Someone else vomiting. I cannot find this phobia but I think it’s related to the germ phobia.
I’m okay with myself if I have the need, but someone else sneezing, coughing or, the V word, I cry and scream , or just sob quietly shuddering until I can take a shower after witnessing the act.
Recently a six foot seven man had rained down mucus on my hair and back (I’m 5ft) and I cried until I could get home and shower.
I stayed in the shower and cried and scrubbed my skin red and raw and wouldn’t calm down till I fell asleep.
I avoided accompanying anyone to Walmart after that.
Whenever I see employees coughing or sneezing I do everything I can to avoid that isle and object they were stocking and use copious amounts of hand sanitizer if I ever have to buy what they’ve touched.
This is Emetophobia! I have it as well! The fear of vomit or vomiting. Lots of different versions.
I’d like to ask – or rather I need it – what is it, that when i can’t have showers or when i can’t wash my hands, i feel so disgusting, so ugly, so reprehensible, so foul and i disparage myself, i hate myself, i call myself names, etc. ? What is it?
I don’t usually feel so hateful about myself. In this state, I even cry of despair and of the feeling of disgust.
And still.. it’s just a shower, isn’t it?
It can be mysophobia, it can be OCD, but i don´t know! Since i couldn’t find anything about the feelings, which a person with mysophobia have, when they get in touch with dirt.
Please, help me. Everything is helpful.
People who have mysophobia often have OCD at the same time so you might have both. Try to go to a psychologist that specializes in OCD if possible because not a lot of people know mysophobia.
I go through several bottles of rubbing alcohol every month sanitizing anything my hands may come into contact with (door handles, silverware, cell phone, etc.). Mysophobia/OCD is horribly debilitating.
Yes it is. I hope you got the help you needed. Exposure therapy and psychotherapy seems like a good idea.
I’m hoping someone here can recommend a few things. I could never diagnose myself as mysophobic, however I have many similar tendencies, that I need help with. In this particular part, I am hoping someone is able to recommend some gloves that are washable, (such as of a soft material), but opaque. The closest I can find are cotton gloves, many of which are aerated, but I am strictly looking for something opaque, so that fewer germs are able to pass through. Secondly, I am looking for a type of lotion that does not burn my cuts as much, I wash my hands frequently causing them to reopen often, meaning it is also difficult to keep them moisturized. Thirdly, if you know any other chats I could join that are related to this, I would appreciate it. Any help is much appreciated.
I really need help. I have this extreme fear of touching ANYTHING school related while I’m not at school. School to me is filth and anything, even a pencil or an eraser are dirty. I’m not talking dirty as in eating with your hands or playing outside on the grass or something. It is different. If God forbid I touch anything from school, especially the clothing, I will really wash my self and my clothes until satisfied. If I have paper or something from school, doesn’t matter what’s on it, to me it is dirty and I will get contaminated by touching it. Every day after school, I put my clothes in my school drawer and put away everything from school. After I do that, I take a shower. I will have a panic attack if something from school touches me or any of my belongings. It is so horrible, please help.
This happens to me as well… It really sucks :(
Yeah me too.
Evan Oswald says
Reigh I think that you kinda have mysophobia because you said you hate it when you touch something that someone else has touched.
I’ve always been sickly, but the OCD really flared up when I became really ill with a chest infection for 3 months. I was determined to not get ill again. I avoided getting ill for almost 12 months, which I attributed to keeping myself clean, but was infected again by my nephew, despite washing my hands after touching what he has touched.
I am usually fine at work or when out, but I want my home, especially my bed to be clean, so I would obsessively wash my hands after touching something dirty once I get home. It doesn’t help that my husband and my brother-in-law, who also lives in my house, can sometimes be negligent about hygiene, so I am always wary about shared items.
I have the same disease…i am getting myself treated now
I’ve noticed that some of these responses were kind of old, but I’m going to ask any ways. I don’t really have a fear of getting sick or anything, but I hate the thought that I’m touching something that someone has touched before. Today I had a huge breakdown about it at school. I usually handle the problem by not thinking about it, but sometimes they come randomly and I get all fidgety. People and certain locations don’t affect me, not till I think about it. I just wanted to know if this was Mysophobia or something similar to it.
I know how it feels to be like this. I suffer everyday and I always use sanitiser after touching something, I carry many bottles in my bag with me. At the moment I have 5 bottles in my bag and one in the pocket of my uniform. That is just it halved. It can be horrible and I was once at your stage. Try to get help before it gets to the point you won’t even let your friends hug you or your parents touch anything of yours. I am at the point where anything that gets touched by someone else or if it gets knocked over then it must be cleaned. I don’t want to hear that you get this bad. You are at the beginning of mysophobia and have the chance to run away. Grab it with two hands and get yourself out of the sitiuation. Even though I am a month and two days after you asked, it is still early on. I have suffered since I was 5 years old. It gets worse the longer you leave it.
I’m not sure if I am OCD or mysophobia. But I will share with you guys a few things that bother me.
I think my obsession started off from watching a movie of cancer or water balls on the lady’s breasts. Ever since I kept having bad dream of myself having these wired water balls on my body. I don’t like sharing a bed. Before I go to sleep I have to dust off the bed and my pillow with my hand. I feel extremely bothered when I feel something even as tiny as an ant on my bed. I can sense that dust that nobody can even see. Whenever my sister’s ask me to do their hair it feels like I’m breathing their dandruff so I automatically start to sniff because it’s all in my brains. I have to wipe the plates the glass and the fork and knife before using. I hate it when people touch me, I hate people sneezing or coughing next to me… I can’t use public transport or toilet, I can’t even use my home toilet. I cannot stand people starring at me and I can’t be in a place with so many people. I use toilet paper to flush to open the toilet seat and to touch door handle. I am always washing my hand and using sanitizer. I am about to quit my job because it feels like everything and everyone are extremely dirty. Please I need help to understand myself. And a cure for this.
Get treatment….have favoxamine 50mg half tablet a day at night…try emotion freedom technique and do meditation.
I have same problem..i am doing these now
Well i have germphobia (mysophobia), i have a fear of catching diseases. I have anxiety now and depression i have mini panic attacks/anxiety, and it affects my every day life when im home, in school or in the public and public bathrooms. I dont even sit on my own toilet at home, im a girl by the way. I dont like to be touched, scratched or spit on by people. I dont like hurting my family members feelings and my anxiety attacks are very bad, please help.
I have severe panic attacks, normally triggered from being blamed or yelled at. I have germophobia, pyrophobia, claustrophobia, fear of clowns, and getting sick. I don’t like sharing the bed either.
I have a crippling fear of excessively dirty things and places. I do not obsessively clean, the exact opposite. If more than a few dishes are in the sink for say overnight I avoid them for days. I have to force myself to use my bathroom in my home for fear of the nasty sink from my young child and husband. I also have yet to clean under my oven sink buying a house in bad repair months ago. I have no problem doing regular cleaning. Mopping, vacuuming, doing laundry, dusting. I don’t even like cleaning really dirty things with clean rags or mops for fear of getting the cleaning tools dirty. Strange I know. It has really caused me serious problems. Does anyone know if this is a named disorder? Thanks.
I am the exact same and I don’t know how to handle it, it is causing me to literally want to sleep all day everyday
I have this too. I forget, but I also hate wiping up the water around the sink. I wash my hands before and after I do anything, which adds a lot of time. It drives my husband nuts, so I told him he could leave notes out for me, but I got annoyed, probably because I have the urge to rewash my hands after I wipe around the sink. Vicious cycle. ADHD and OCD. Any hacks?
I can definitely relate to the stories especially the one with the rug and no shoes in the house. I’m glad I am not the only one. It does affect our lives socially. I hope there’s a solution to this phobia. Yikes!
My sister and I both suffer from this. We hate germs but we also have this idea that if someone coughs or sneezes we’re gonna get sick and the sole idea of that happening gives us anxiety. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s gotten worse over time we can’t go to the store without wearing a surgical mask because the sole idea of us smelling somebody’s cough or sneeze makes us sick to our stomach. We don’t know what to do, it’s getting worse every day. It’s affecting our social life. If somebody coughs close to us we run to a different location. It’s horrible, please help us.
I have an extreme fear of germs, cant touch door handles, I do not eat anything that is prepared by someone else. I only eat foods that I cooked for myself. After using a toilet I feel as if I am covered with germs then I must bath the whole body. I do not share lip glosses and it always looks as if I am very selfish when I am a very good person.
No shoes are allowed in my bedroom and I cant walk without my slippers within my house. I cannot sleep with someone’s blankets as a result I am compelled to take along my linen when I have to sleep out.
I have got a serious problem with public toilets. When I answer the phone at work I always wipe it quickly before it goes to my ear. I also have a problem of touching people’s cell phones as most take them to the toilets and even enjoy talking with in the toilets.
I am staying in Soshanguve working in Pretoria CBD. The town is so filthy I cannot walk around.
I also cannot share dishes and my cutlery. The list goes on and on, please assist me.
I wish to enjoy a normal life.
Have you ever considered hypnosis. Some psychiatrists are trained to do so with good results.
I am not a psych, but work in the field. :)
(My english is not so good, but i’ll try my best, sorry for any mistakes xD)
My phobia is very similar to yours, so i’ll tell you what i do… The things I usually eat come in bags or things that are closed, i live with my sister and mother, and they both know what things from the refrigerator are mine, so they don’t touch them.
About the toilet, before i sit, i cover the seat with kitchen papers (i have my own rolls), so then I don’t have any contact with the toilet… I use kitchen paper for everything, I mean, if I wanna open a door, I use one… And so i don’t use it all in one day, I try to use it for as many things as I can.
For example, i open my door and go to the kitchen, then i open the refrigerator and grab something with it too.
Oh, and I have my own dishes too (which i cleaned a lot when i buy them)
The papers i use always are in bags. Obviously, when i use them, i use one side for the dirty things, and the other for my hand. I can even pet my animals with them :3
About going out, i really hate it, but i can act normal. I just think “when im back home i’ll clean myself like crazy and i’ll take a good long shower, so everything’s gonna be okay, for now just hold on a little longer” I still try not to have so much contact with everybody, but well…
I hope this helps you, you just have to find your way for making things easier :)
Btw, i still keep washing myself a lot, but this helps me, so i don’t have to do it all the time, or at least, not so much.
I use the bottom of my t-shirt to open doors, cabinets, the refrigerator, etc. I can swoop my hand in underneath the inside of my shirt, and then use the outside of it to touch all of these things. I have to stretch the shirt a bit when, say, reaching out for the gas pump.
Mines a little strange. And I don’t think of it as being germy, but I’ve had people tell me it’s this. I can’t eat after people. If they’ve been into let’s say a burger I can’t take a bite, it repulses me. Same with silverware and if they’ve eaten food out of a bowl and offer me the rest, it’s revolting.
That’s normal though? some people are just like that. I can’t eat other peoples food after they have, and i can’t use other peoples silverware. It is revolting, there’s germs all over a persons mouth. Even french kissing is gross for me. And the idea of giving a guy a blow job sickens me. I wash my hands before i cook or eat, or after using the bathroom, in other words a reasonable number of times. They are so wrong for accusing you of being Mysophobic. You are simply exercising necessary precaution to avoid getting sick, there’s nothing wrong with that.
No, that’s pretty unusual. It’s alright to not want to share people’s food/cutlery but if you’re really that worried about it and find it that repulsive then you’re not taking necessary precaution to not get sick. Really as soon as you start using terms like “revolting” and “sickens me” to describe something most people do on a regular basis, you’re probably going to find that you’re too extreme.
My fear developed after moving into an apartment and meeting the landlord’s husband. He smells very bad, his hands are always dirty, he doesn’t take care of himself at all. He does handyman work in the building so he’s touching a lot of the doorknobs I have to touch. Then my fear escalated to the extreme when I found out that he had peed twice in the hallway and on the stairs. I need to walk in these places to go in and out. I guess they were cleaned because you can’t smell anything (it happened over a year ago) but I don’t trust that it was cleaned properly, as neither the landlord or husband believe in hygiene. And then my fear skyrocketed to the extreme when he removed a dead squirrel from the property with his bare hands. I tell my family to wash their hands because of all this but they think I’m crazy. I have an extreme fear of germs in just this building alone. Whenever I move out, I feel like I have to get everything new because I don’t want the germs transferring to a new apartment. I wear shoes in my apartment all the time, but I got a rug for my room. It didn’t last long until a couple of handymen came in with their dirty boots and walked on it. Then my mom wears pants that drag and she’s walked over the places he has peed and then walked in my room. I feel I am constantly suffocating from germs in this building, I cannot even find comfort in my bedroom because it has been violated so many times. I find myself scrubbing my “safety rug” a few times a month.
Wow that stressed me out just reading it. I can imagine what you’re going through! If I was in your situation I’d act the same way. I’m only 17 and have an extreme fear of germs. It’s so painful living this way. I’ll pray for you.
I feel the same way,
In my case If someone touches (Anything ) to me it’s dirty and I can’t touch it and sometimes even when I clean it it’s still not clean in my eyes. You should really try and move out asap, but also keep in mind that any other place you go to might still be a little dirty , since not everyone thinks like us.
I finally found people that understand me. 🤔
I developed this fear after seeing a few people in my family die from cancer only being 10 years old. I thought if I could prevent myself from getting sick, I wouldn’t die. It became obsessive. As soon as I would come home from school I’d thoroughly shower for at least an hour. I would constantly wipe down surfaces I touch. Eating was a hastle, I had to make sure my utensils and dishes were clean before I could eat. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep. Every time my face touched a pillow or a blanket I would jump out of bed and wash my face. This fear started to take over my life. So I hid soaps from myself. It was difficult at first but eventually I learned to overcome it. 10 years later I no longer have the fear of germs, however I do get very anxious when I hear about illnesses.
Chase A. Ford says
This website it really good for middle school students.