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Ablutophobia: An uncommon phobia of bathing, washing and cleaning

Dr Fabian Almeida, Psychiatrist and Counsellor, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, gives you details about this unusual phobia.

Written by Aishwarya Vaidya |Updated : May 23, 2018 6:11 PM IST

Bathing, washing and cleaning are a part of our daily chores. But, some people may refrain from doing so. Yes! You have heard it right. Maneka Chawla (name changed) had slipped over a rock while on a pilgrimage to Nashik at the Godavri river. She fell into the rapids and almost drowned but was luckily saved by an ace swimmer who was picnicking by the riverside. But, for almost eight months, she kept away from having a shower bath or getting her feet into water, be it a swimming pool or a beach (due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). With help of counseling and treatment by a psychiatrist, she was back to her smiling self again. Often, this may be seen as a symptom of larger psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia (as a part of a delusion) or obsessive compulsive disorder (as part of an obsession). Hence, it is important to understand that if symptoms arise, and cause distress to the person and to those around them, it is time to seek help.

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Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by persistent, irrational, excessive fears of an object or situation; present for more than six months, causing deep distress to the con concerned person concerned, explains Dr Fabian Almeida, Psychiatrist and Counsellor, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan. While many people suffer from different types of phobia ablutophobia is uncommon.

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As per Dr Fabian Almeida,The term Ablutophobia originates from the Latin word ablutere , meaning to wash off. This is abnormal, unwarranted and repetitive fear orbiting, washing or cleaning. It is rather uncommon, but when seen, it is more likely to be present in women and children. It is a situation specific phobia. We tend to see it more as a complex symptom of some other larger psychiatric disorder, rather than a stand-alone entity. Dr Fabian Almeida lists out symptoms, causes and treatment to fight the fear.



  • Symptoms are suggestive of Anxiety associated to the fear of bathing or washing; these include:
  • Panic Attacks (increased sweating, palpitations, difficulty in breathing, etc.)
  • Intense fear or anxiety, escalating as the person gets closer to the situation
  • Distress associated with the repetitive, uncontrollable nature of these fearful thoughts
  • A mounting sense of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
  • Avoidance of such activities and associated irritability

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  • An untoward experience related to water, or while showering, or while swimming or travelling, leading to such intense fear, anxiety and panic

How to overcome it:

  • Bathing and washing are a vital part of our daily activities. Hence, one has to overcome the fear.
  • Treatment involves taking detailed history of the patient, to begin with, to get to the root of the problem. If it is purely a Phobia, the supportive counselling, exposure therapy, systematic desensitization therapy, helps. These are targeted at gradually helping a person identify, accept and then gradually overcome their fears.
  • Use of anti-anxiety medication depends on the extent of symptomology, ranging from mild, moderate to severe. Support groups bring together people suffering from a similar illness under one roof, to strengthen and support their problems, this proves to be extremely useful.
  • Treatment of the larger psychiatric disorder like obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia, of which this may be a part, is an important aspect too.

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