Obsessive hand washing is a behaviour often associated with a condition called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People suffering from OCD experience recurring thoughts and urges which result in a compulsion to perform repetitive acts such as hand washing. Fear of dirt and germs is a common obsession, which compels sufferers to need to decontaminate themselves when they come into contact with other people or surfaces. This can result in excessive hand washing, which can have negative effects on the sufferer's quality of life.
Obsessive hand washing can have a detrimental effect on the health of your hands. People suffering from OCD may spend over an hour a day washing their hands, which can result in thinning of the skin until their hands are red raw and bleeding. This effect is worsened if the sufferer uses chemical products such as detergents in an attempt to cleanse their hands of the perceived contamination. Frequent hand washing with such products can result in chronic damage to the skin which may lead to dermatitis and eczema.
Obsessive hand washing can cause significant anxiety. Sufferers constantly worry about whether their hands are sufficiently clean or whether they could have become contaminated since they last washed them and need washing again. They may realise that their fears are irrational, but find that the best way to relieve their anxiety is by performing the compulsive washing ritual. They may also believe that by washing their hands they will be keeping their loved ones safe by not contaminating them.
When obsessive hand washing is severe, it can have a debilitating effect on a person's social life. Sufferers may become reluctant to leave their homes for fear of contamination and have their normal social activities interrupted by the need to repeatedly wash their hands. It can have a negative impact on relationships, as partners may struggle to understand why the sufferer feels the need to wash their hands so often. When OCD affects children, it will also have a negative effect on their school work.
Obsessive hand washing can cause a person to miss considerable time off work. According to OCD UK, a person with OCD may lose three years of wages over their lifetime. They may also miss out on opportunities for promotions at work and career development. Families of those affected by the illness can also suffer economic consequences, as they may have to take time off work to care for their loved one and monitor their obsessive hand washing.