What is an Obsessive Cleaning Disorder ?

Obsessive cleaning disorder is one of several sub-categories of obsessive-compulsive disorder where the patient has an obsessive compulsion to clean or wash the house or specific objects.

What is an obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Most of us have little rituals we perform. They might be simple things such as checking the door to make sure you have locked it before leaving for work. Or running upstairs to check you have not left your hair irons switched on. But whilst these are perfectly normal things to do, a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder will feel compelled to perform ritualized behaviors and find their brain stuck in an endless reel of obsessive thoughts or urges. We might check the lock once, but an OCD person will check it fifty times and still go back for another look.

Obsessive cleaning disorder is one of the symptoms of the main disorder. Sufferers will compulsively spend every waking moment of their day cleaning. Very often the person is obsessed with a fear of contamination from germs and bacteria so they scrub surfaces and objects with cleaning agents over and over again. But instead of finding relief from undertaking their cleaning rituals, the anxiety soon returns and the cleaning ritual becomes even more complicated and time-consuming.

People suffering from the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder usually have obsessions or compulsions that interfere with their everyday life. The symptoms can worsen in times of stress, but disappear on other occasions. In the worst cases, obsessive-compulsive disorder can ruin people’s lives by negatively affecting relationships, jobs, and every aspect of a person’s waking moments.

What is the treatment for obsessive cleaning disorder?

One of the most effective treatments for someone suffering from any type of obsessive-compulsive disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy involving a two-pronged approach: cognitive therapy and exposure / response prevention.

Cognitive therapy can help the patient deal with the obsessive thoughts so that they are less likely to revert to compulsive behavioral patterns. Cognitive therapy enables them to understand where the obsessive thoughts and compulsions originate from so that they are able to work around them in time.

Exposure and response prevention involves repeatedly exposing the patient to the source of the obsession or compulsive behavior, so for somebody suffering from obsessive cleaning disorder, they might be exposed to a less than hygienic room until the anxiety goes away. Research has shown that by ‘retraining’ the brain, over time the incidence of obsessive-compulsive symptoms is gradually reduced.

Self-help techniques can also help people who think they might have obsessive cleaning disorder. Instead of giving in to the urge to clean up and disinfect every surface, they are told to sit back and wait until the anxiety fades. This type of exposure therapy forces the person to face the fear while at the same time preventing them from completing their obsessive cleaning rituals.

Medications such as antidepressants can also help people suffering from obsessive cleaning disorder, particularly if the problem is related to stress, depression or anxiety disorders. Research has shown that around six out of ten people see an improvement in their symptoms once they start a course of medication.

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