Germaphobia Symptoms: How to Tackle Germaphobia?

07 Jul, 2011

Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets”, Dr. Sheldon Cooper played by Jim Parsons in popular CBS series “The Big Bang Theory” as well as Dr. Niles Crane, from the sitcom “Frasier” have all displayed Germaphobic tendencies with excellent detail. Jack is already suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which generally tends to increase the patient’s potential to have Germaphobia as well. He tends to clean his body with hot scalding water and will not use the same bar of soap more than once, as he fears that he has contaminated the soap if he has used it even once. Wearing gloves and avoiding use of silverware provided by a restaurant is normal to him while he doesn’t flinch in appearing like a jerk as he shouts on people to avoid touching them while he is walking in a crowded street.



Obsession with germs
A Germaphobia patient is extremely worried about germs. These patients feel there are germs everywhere and they are extremely susceptible to an infection. Hence they tend to spend the entire time trying to get rid of or avoid any actions that they feel will bring them in contact with germs.

William Hammond was the first to come up with a theory on Germaphobia in late 19th century. He was studying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) patients and was trying to understand impact of Germaphobia in OCD patients. He realized that there is a basic difference between an OCD patient’s need to continuously wash his hands and the Germaphobe’s excessive hand cleaning.

In OCD, the patient needs to do a certain action repeatedly just to be comfortable. They will become restless if they are not able to carry out a particular set of actions – washing hands regularly, usually being one of them. On the other hand, a patient suffering from Germaphobia will be concerned with contracting of germs. The difference maybe ever so slight, but the cause of the patient’s actions is extremely important for proper rehabilitation and recovery of the patient.

Germaphobia Symptoms and its Effect on Quality of Life
There could be different causes of Germaphobia including a traumatic experience faced by the patient personally or on someone very close to the patient; deep impact of various images, movies or similar media material that depicts the horrors of germ related diseases; or even fears caused by pandemics like bird flu or easily contractible, incurable diseases like AIDS. Individuals are said to be afflicted by Germaphobia, if they takes extreme measures in avoiding things that they believe may cause them to suffer from any infection, like not touching the door knobs, door handles, window latches, public taps, etc.; keeping away from social functions or avoiding any type of physical contact with others; wearing protective clothing like surgeon gloves, carrying sanitizers everywhere, etc. A patient may tend to keep washing his / her hands continuously or even take more than two to three showers everyday. Whenever the patients find themselves near object that can cause germ contamination, they start feeling uneasy and find it difficult to breathe. Nausea sets in, the patients’ heart rate shoots up and usually the patients tend to throw up.

To tackle this phobia, the patient should ideally take professional help. There are medications that can improve the condition, but usually patients may have to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy. Other treatment methodologies include – Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Energy Psychology, hypnotherapy and modeling. The mental health professional will assess patient progress regularly and suggest the best possible option that works for the patient.

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