fear of germs

The fear of germs: It is a type of simple phobia that generates a fear of being contaminated with germs. This type of phobia is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. When it is very pronounced, it manifests itself as a fear of being contaminated by germs and contracting a disease.

The fear of germs: Symptoms

People experience intense feelings of anxiety and fear when they come into contact with the phobic stimulus. These lead them to want to «escape» from dirt, mainly by getting away from it or eliminating it from their body, as well as trying to avoid it; for this reason they can become isolated in a practically pristine home.

Sometimes the anxiety becomes so intense that episodes known as panic attacks or panic attacks appear. The symptoms of these crises, which include both physiological and cognitive manifestations, are the following:

  • Palpitations and increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • tremors
  • Difficulty breathing and choking sensation
  • choking sensation
  • Chest discomfort, for example chest tightness
  • Nausea and abdominal discomfort
  • Loss of balance, dizziness and fainting
  • Derealization and depersonalization
  • Fear of losing control or sanity
  • Affraid to die
  • Numbness or tingling (paresthesia)
  • Chills and hot flashes

obsessive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a pathology characterized by the presence of intrusive thoughts related to a recurring theme (obsessions) and the practice of certain behaviors aimed at reducing their prevalence (compulsions). OCD can be associated with many issues, but one of the most common is cleaning.

People with this mental illness are constantly assailed by a great concern related to dirt and germs.

Fear normally only appears when the person is faced with a situation in which they are in contact with something dirty. However, the nature of obsessive-compulsive disorder means that the fear is present almost all the time the person is awake.

Additionally, in OCD, the individual will engage in various “corrective” behaviors that they believe will help them avoid the fear or worst consequences they imagine dirt causes. This is something that does not occur in the case of a specific phobia.

On the other hand, when both disorders occur together, it is normal for a specialist to focus on solving the obsessive-compulsive disorder first. When the symptoms of this are reduced.


There are several causes that lead to this disorder, among them are:

Traumatic origin: This type of phobia is sometimes related to an event that occurred in childhood. Whether it is an event that involves germs, in places such as schools, parks, among others. However, it causes a feeling of anxiety from an early age.

Imitative behaviors: The beginning of this phobia usually occurs from childhood, with the learning of the use of the toilet. However, it has also been related to the appearance of other types of phobias. Sometimes if a family member has suffered the same fear before. On the other hand, this phobia can be acquired, learned and imitated by the obsessive behavior of a close relative.

Uncontrolled anxiety: Some people are predisposed by their extreme anxiety, THE PHOBIA as a result of information related to diseases. Doing so, the person becomes obsessed with this phobia.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: It is closely linked with this type of phobia. Since an individual can begin to have said phobia by obsessing over neatness. In such a way that, with cleaning, symptoms that have developed an obsessive routine of habits and repulsion towards microbes are manifested.

The fear of germs:Treatments

In case of being conceptualized as a specific phobia, without associated symptoms of OCD, the most used and most effective treatments are:

Exposure to feared stimuli. This allows anxiety to be habituated, provides corrective learning (learning that the stimulus is not followed by the feared consequences), and allows misconceptions to be disconfirmed.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Add cognitive therapy to the exposure. Cognitive techniques make it possible to correct irrational ideas related to fear and foster adaptive beliefs. This correction of thoughts facilitates exposure.

If conceptualized as OCD, exposure with response prevention can be applied. It consists of exposing yourself to the stimuli that provoke the obsessions (for example, places where there are many germs, such as a public bathroom) and, subsequently, blocking the performance of rituals or compulsions (for example, washing your hands for 15 minutes).

This type of intervention also produces cognitive changes that allow the obsessions to be reclassified as non-threatening.

Other phobias related to germs

Although we have included within this phobia the general phobias related to dirt, there are other variables that deserve a separate section as they are more specific.

Amatophobia: It is the fear of dust as a specific form of dirt. People who suffer from it have an exhaustive care of the cleaning of the home.

Autodysomophobia: It is the fear of smelling bad, both in relation to one’s own smell and that of others or that of a certain space. This phobia, like the others, can trigger an anxious response and be highly disabling.


The phobia can be pervasive and alter the life of the individual. You can avoid going out in public, having sex, and eating food that they did not cook.

This affects much of a person’s life and can lead to other mental health problems, such as depression, social isolation, and anxiety.

To finish we can say that for those around them, understanding and supporting the close phobia is not always easy. In fact, faced with the irrationality of the disorder, it is important to support him, without encouraging his fear, rationalize him, reassure him, gradually lead him to accept exposing himself to what he fears the most.