Ablutophobia is the overwhelming fear of bathing, cleaning, or washing. It’s an anxiety disorder that falls under the category of specific phobias.

Specific phobias are irrational fears centered around a particular situation. They can disrupt your life. An estimated 19.2 million adults in the United States are affected by specific phobias. Specific phobias generally have common symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Ablutophobia is more common in women and children than in men.

The symptoms of ablutophobia are the same as with most specific phobias. Symptoms may occur when faced with bathing or washing. They may also occur when just thinking about it. Symptoms include:

  • intense fear or anxiety that increases the closer you get to the situation
  • panic attacks
  • knowing that your fear is irrational but unable to stop it
  • avoidance of bathing or washing to avoid the fear and anxiety
  • the fear interfering with your daily life
  • sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing
  • in children, clinging, crying, or tantrums

The cause of specific phobias like ablutophobia isn’t completely understood. However, the cause usually falls in one of the following three categories:

  • Negative experience: You had some sort of traumatic experience that involved bathing or washing.
  • Your genetics: You’re more likely to have ablutophobia if one of your parents had it.
  • Changes in brain functioning: This includes injury, aging, and more.

If you think you have ablutophobia, see your primary care doctor. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have any physical injury or illness that may be causing the ablutophobia.

If your doctor determines it’s an anxiety disorder, you’ll be directed to a mental health professional.

The mental health professional will start with a clinical interview. They’ll ask you about your medical and psychiatric background as well as your social and family history. Through this interview, they’ll use diagnostic criteria to make a final diagnosis.

Many times, ablutophobia goes untreated because people who have it believe there isn’t a treatment that would help them. However, there are effective treatments for it.

The first type of treatment is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy treatments include exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In exposure therapy, you’ll gradually be exposed to bathing or washing. During this gradual exposure, you’ll learn to manage your feelings and anxiety at each repeated gradual exposure.

CBT can be combined with exposure therapy. As you’re gradually exposed to bathing, you’ll learn techniques that can help alter your view of bathing and reduce your anxiety and fear.

Psychotherapy is usually the most successful in treating ablutophobia. However, in some cases, your doctor may prescribe medications to help reduce your fear and anxiety. Medications are usually used as short-term treatment alongside psychotherapy. Medications that may be used to treat ablutophobia include:

  • beta-blockers
  • sedatives

As part of your treatment plan, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes or home treatments. These treatments may include:

  • mindfulness exercises, such as meditation
  • relaxation techniques, such as yoga and deep breathing
  • increasing physical activity (physical exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety)

Ablutophobia is real. While some phobias can be avoided, ablutophobia is difficult to avoid while maintaining your regular daily activities. It can be devastating if you have it because bathing and washing are a part of everyday life. If left untreated, the complications this condition may include:

  • Isolation: If you’re not bathing regularly or at all, you may gradually become socially isolated.
  • Depression: Social isolation or just the overwhelming fear of bathing may cause you to experience depression.
  • Heavy use of drugs or alcohol: Some people with ablutophobia may try to cope with their fear and anxiety by heavily using drugs or alcohol. Social isolation may also increase the use of drugs or alcohol.

The most important thing to know about ablutophobia is that there are treatments available that can help you manage and possibly overcome this phobia.

If you’re unable to bathe due to fear and anxiety, it’s important that you talk to your doctor. They can set up a treatment plan as well as management strategies to help you.