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Question
Posted by: Tessa | 2011/07/27

Sudden crippling fear of germs

Hi Doc, sorry its long but I so badly want someone to understand.

I am suddenly very aware of and extremely alarmed by germs. I am a 37yr old single mum. I cannot bring myself to touch the handles of public toilets, neither do I ever sit on the seats - they must be lined with two layers of toilet paper and on certain days I take these precautions even at home. I don''t trust the taps at work and use tissue just to switch on a tap or if I can’ t use something then I wipe my hands somewhere after touching a tap or door handle.

I also am suddenly very aware of what germs my child might have picked up at school so before we leave the school premises I get her to wash her hands and sometimes smell her hands afterwards to make sure she used soap and didn''t just wash with water. The other day she took a bath and I wasn''t convinced she had bathed properly as the water still looked quite clean afterwards so I took her out of her pyjamas and bathed her all over again. It made her cry but I couldn’ t bear the thought of her sleeping with skin which wasn’ t quite clean. She has a rabbit and guinea pig in our garden and after she plays with them, I do not let her touch anything in the house until she has washed her hands properly. I also make her wear roll-on and fragrance. She is 8, I realise this is unreaosnable but I can''t help myself.

Everything is anti-bacterial in our house –  the handwash, the bath/shower soaps, the detergents/cleaning liquids even the air fresheners. In the grocery store, I cannot resist buying sth labelled anti-bacterial, the way some women just simply have to have a certain pair of shoes.

This is a sudden onset of germ/dirt phobia –  I have always hated germs but it’ s only in the last six months or so that it has become so extreme. It is really worrying me –  I am at work and just now when I went to the kitchen to make tea, was in a dilemma as to how to open the milk bottle without transferring germs from the lid onto my hand. I didn’ t have anything to hold the lid with so I just used my hands –  then washed them afterwards but not before I had a problem working out how not to directly touch the tap to wash my hands. I have twice wiped my laptop today as I am worried about the germs on the keyboard.

Yesterday I brushed my teeth twice before going to work. I shower twice a day which is fine –  but I know I would do so three times if I could leave the office at lunchtime. I once showered in the morning then circumstance meant I couldn’ t take an evening shower. That night I slept horribly, imagining dirt and germs literally crawling all over me. I slept horribly and fitfully, I itched and scratched and felt smelly and filthy and strangely guilty.

What is wrong with me? What other things shd I be looking out for? I was recently in counselling for various problems relating to my inability to socialise with ppl properly and draw near to or trust ppl. I had to discontinue the counselling as I ran out of money and in fact still have the bills to pay. What kind of counselling shd I be in, given my new and alarming fear of germs and dirt? Where can I have this done at a cost I can afford, or for free? I am worried I am staring OCD or sth similar in the face and need to start treating it now.

The other thing which worries me, and is excessive of late, is my terrible full-body itching. CyberDoc says I must have it checked out asap as it could be a sign of something more serious. Do you see any link between the chronic itching, fear of germs and mistrust of ppl?

What’ s going on with me?

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

This is definitely OCD, which fortunately responds well to treatment. ITs not clear why it sometimes comes on so rapidly or at this particular time, but its usually not fruitful to pursue those questions. From the sound of this, it grew on a basis of a pre-existing strong concern about hygiene, which then grew way out of proportion.
Some medications, such as those also used to treat depression, can be very helpful ( and there's often an element of depression along with OCD ) ; and the only specific variety of counselling shown to help OCD would be Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy ( CBT ).
The chronic itching is not usually part of OCD, and you'd need to see at least a GO, and preferably a Dermatologist to check this out. Personally, I very strongly suspect it is caused by your excessive washing and excessive exposure to so many unnecessary antiseptic and "anti-germ" chemicals. And also if you use, as you describe unnecessarily making your daughter use, fragrances and deodorants. Fragrances are very common causes of skin irritation, and not beneficial at all.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

2
Our users say:
Posted by: Romany | 2011/07/28

The cronic itching is due to the anti-bacterial soap you are using. You are depleting all the natural oils in your skin
Use Johnson &  Johnson''s baby soap... the blue one and put Oylatum in your bath water (from the chemist). Nothing with purfumes or colourants.
My brain also tells me that I am full of germs if I feel itchy all the time.

Reply to Romany
Posted by: cybershrink | 2011/07/27

This is definitely OCD, which fortunately responds well to treatment. ITs not clear why it sometimes comes on so rapidly or at this particular time, but its usually not fruitful to pursue those questions. From the sound of this, it grew on a basis of a pre-existing strong concern about hygiene, which then grew way out of proportion.
Some medications, such as those also used to treat depression, can be very helpful ( and there's often an element of depression along with OCD ) ; and the only specific variety of counselling shown to help OCD would be Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy ( CBT ).
The chronic itching is not usually part of OCD, and you'd need to see at least a GO, and preferably a Dermatologist to check this out. Personally, I very strongly suspect it is caused by your excessive washing and excessive exposure to so many unnecessary antiseptic and "anti-germ" chemicals. And also if you use, as you describe unnecessarily making your daughter use, fragrances and deodorants. Fragrances are very common causes of skin irritation, and not beneficial at all.

Reply to cybershrink

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