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Contamination or Washing OCD

People who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder sometimes have certain patterns of behavior that are associated with the illness. People with OCD often deal with intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts that cause a lot of anxiety for them. They tend to cope with these thoughts through repetitive behaviors that can take on different forms including washing, checking and other ritualistic patterns.

OCD symptoms

OCD symptoms vary depending on each individual’s particular anxieties and the type of thoughts that they are coping with. A subset of OCD, known as contamination OCD is an illness in which the sufferer is terrified of being contaminated by germs or the possibility of getting sick. About 25 percent of OCD sufferers have this kind of illness, making it the most common subset of OCD in the world.

Those with contamination OCD tend to fear possible instances of catching germs such as touching door handles, sharing drinks or being in contact with any object that they feel could make them sick. They may also engage in repetitive hand washing to get rid of imagined germs and have a certain amount of times that they wash their hands everyday. They might develop certain habits such as wearing protective items like gloves to prevent contamination.

Intrusive Thoughts about Contamination

Someone that struggles with intrusive thoughts about contamination may have no control over their fear of getting sick. Their fears are often out of proportion with reality and they may have irrational phobias about contracting life-threatening diseases like AIDs or cancer. They might also fear the possibility of coming into contact with viruses or bacteria that they believe are present on certain objects.

The fear of contamination can lead to sufferers avoiding people, situations, objects or places that they feel might make them sick. They might constantly clean their home, wash their hands excessively or use gloves or paper towels wherever they go to feel more secure. Their fears may also cause them to go to the doctor constantly and get multiple tests to find out if they have certain illnesses.

People with intrusive thoughts about contamination often find that their anxieties are debilitating and they can’t get rid of them. It can start to affect their daily life if they find they can’t go certain places, be around people or accomplish tasks because they are so afraid of germs. They might spend a lot of time cleaning and disinfecting things in their home or at work because they can’t get rid of their anxiety about contamination.

Getting Help for Contamination OCD

Even though OCD can be a debilitating problem, it is possible for people to recover from the illness with regular therapy in a treatment program. Many patients will be treated through the use of exposure therapy which gradually exposes them to the sources of the fear in a controlled way. As the patient voluntarily exposes themselves to their fears over and over again they can start to minimize much of their anxiety.

During exposure therapy, patients will learn how to avoid acting on any compulsions that they have when they are exposed to their fear of germs. Therapists can teach them techniques to learn how to neutralize or stop the fear so that they can handle the exposure without engaging in their usual repetitive patterns. When someone is repeatedly exposed to something they are afraid of, they will realize that most of the things they fear will happen never actually occur.

Eventually after the patient is exposed to the things they fear, the anxiety will slowly decrease and they will begin to understand how irrational their fears really are. The therapy may begin by having the patient make a list of all the things that they fear. They can then rank those things based on how anxious they feel for each object, place or situation.

One by one the patient will be exposed to those things starting with the ones that make them the least anxious and gradually working their way up to what makes them the most anxious. This process can take some time and each patient may want to work at their own pace as they deal with their feelings and anxieties. As their fears decrease they will start building confidence and will be able to handle certain situations without the help of the therapist being there every time.

People with very serious symptoms of OCD will need to find ways to cope with their symptoms and minimize them in order to be able to function better in their daily life. Regular therapy sessions that incorporate exposure therapy can help treat symptoms of OCD. Residential treatment programs may make it easier for OCD patients to face their fears in a controlled and safe environment among people that are dealing with many of the same issues.