Microphobia: symptoms, causes and treatment

There are people who have a phobia of certain things that are small or even tiny (eg bacteria) so they can get anxious when in public spaces so they usually always have a gel or wipes hand sanitizers. and in the most serious cases, they can avoid as much as possible going out of their way to avoid being exposed to such situations.

Microphobia is a type of specific phobia known as an irrational and excessive fear of bacteria, parasites and/or small objects and animals, whether visible or not.

In this article we will see what is microphobia and how it might affect this specific type of phobia in the daily lives of those who suffer from it. We will also discuss some brief guidelines that can be applied from certain psychological treatment approaches.

What is microphobia?

Microphobia is a specific type of phobia that is characterized by excessive and irrational fear or fear of bacteria, parasites, and/or very small objects and animalsvisible or not.

In many cases of people with microphobia, there has also been a constant fear of being infected with some kind of bacteria and/or germ through any type of surface (eg, public restrooms, tables, etc). It leads these people to be disinfected with disinfectant gel or wipes continuously, especially in public spaces..


When diagnosing a case of microphobia, it is essential that the clinician take this into account. the most common overt symptoms commonly seen in patients with this specific type of phobiabeing these that we will enumerate next:

  • Catastrophic and dysfunctional thoughts and ideas about the dangers of small things.
  • Suffering from excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia).
  • Dizziness caused by other symptoms of anxiety.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Continuous and excessive cleaning rituals, which can trigger the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is important to mention that making a diagnosis of microphobia is not enough for a person to suffer from one or more of these symptomsbut it should be a professional who will carefully assess the case and from the relevant tests establish the diagnosis if faced with a real case of microphobia always keeping in mind various factors associated with the patient such as age , family history, mental health, whether or not the patient had other pathologies, both physical and psychological, etc.

In addition to the symptoms we have just seen, which were mostly physiological and behavioral, It is important to keep in mind a number of symptoms at the cognitive level which tend to manifest in cases of microphobia and which are important to keep in mind, these being the ones to be listed below:

  • Obsessive thoughts.
  • Difficulty concentrating when fearing the possible presence of a tiny object or organism.
  • Fear of fainting.
  • Thoughts related to anticipatory anxiety (eg, fear of future exposure to tiny objects).
  • Irrational thoughts related to the microphobia they suffer from.

It is important to note that symptoms of microphobia may develop comorbidly with those of other phobias.


On the other hand, Microphobia is the result of a combination of causesincluding a genetic predisposition to anxiety problems and, above all, the fact of having had certain anxious experiences, so that this state of discomfort is associated with the notion of “germs” or “bacteria”, etc.

Classification of microphobia in diagnostic manuals for mental disorders

In major diagnostic manuals for mental disorders, such as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) DSM-5 and the World Health Organization (WHO) ICD-11, we could classify microphobia in the category of specific phobiaswhich is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders.

Below we will see the main characteristics of the specific phobias in each of the manuals that we have just mentioned and adapted in this case to the possible symptoms of a person with microphobia.

1. Specific phobia in the DSM-5

Characteristics that would allow a clinical professional to diagnose microphobiabeing a specific type of phobia, according to the DSM-5 are those that we will list below:

  • Intense anxiety or fear of the presence of organisms, things or small objects.
  • Fear or anxiety usually arises immediately when faced with tiny organisms or objects.
  • This person tends to actively avoid any type of situation in which there can be little things.
  • The person often experiences clinically significant discomfort that interferes with their daily life.
  • This condition cannot be explained by another illness (eg, panic disorder).
  • Symptoms of fear of small objects, things and organisms should last at least 6 months.

2. Specific phobia in ICD-11

The main characteristics of microphobia, being a type of specific phobia according to ICD-11would be the following:

  • Excessive fear or anxiety that occurs when the person is exposed to tiny organisms or objects.
  • These symptoms of fear or anxiety are totally disproportionate to the actual danger.
  • These tiny objects or organisms are often avoided or overwhelmed by intense fear or anxiety.
  • The symptoms of microphobia that we have just mentioned should last several months.
  • In addition, these symptoms must be severe enough to cause discomfort and/or deterioration.

Treatment of microphobia

When a person suffers from considerable difficulty in their daily life due to possible microphobia or any other type of phobia, such as phobia of certain animals, phobia of flying…so that avoiding being present in certain places or a wide variety of situations where exposure to the feared stimulus might occurit would be advisable that you seek help from a mental health professional so that you can help them gradually overcome their fear and return to a full life.

This is why we will see below some psychological treatments that have proven effective against various types of specific phobias, including microphobia.

1. Cognitive therapy

One of the most widely used psychological treatments to treat cases of microphobia is cognitive therapy.because these patients often have a number of cognitive symptoms related to this excessive fear of small objects or organisms, so in such cases the therapist will be responsible for identifying what these distorted thoughts would be in order to jointly analyze them with the patient in order to that he may be aware that they are not rational.

Once these irrational thoughts linked to microphobia have been identified and analyzed, the therapist will help the patient replace them with other types of thoughts and ideas that are more in line with reality and thus be able to help you on the path to exposure to the feared stimuli without suffering from excessive fear or anxiety.

This type of therapy includes a widely used technique to help identify these irrational thoughts and beliefs (in this case related to microphobia) in order to modify them by its rational questioning with a Socratic dialogue or debateand this technique has been commonly referred to as “cognitive restructuring”.

2. Behavioral therapy

Another psychological therapy that has also been shown to be effective against specific phobias such as microphobia is behavioral therapy, i.e. a therapeutic modality that can increase benefits when combined with cognitive therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy).

Behavioral therapy, which is based on behavioral learning theories versus microphobia or any other type of phobia, can start with a relaxation training technique, which consists of progressive muscle relaxation exercises or autogenic training, focused breathing exercises and also exercises aimed at managing your attention.

Another widely used technique for the treatment of microphobia is the technique of exposure to the feared stimulus (tiny objects or organisms), so the patient must gradually expose themselves to these tiny objects or organisms, and to do this most effectively, they must have learned during therapy sessions to control their thoughts and emotions while they performs these exposures in the face of the stimulus it fears.

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