Halitophobia is a medical term used to describe a delusional fear that one has bad breath, also known as halitosis. In many cases, there is nothing friends and family can do to convince the affected person that this is not true. Possible symptoms of halitophobia include a fear of exhaling, depression, and social isolation. This condition may be caused by psychological trauma, obsessive compulsive disorder, or hypochondria, although the direct cause is not always able to be determined. Treatment for halitophobia may involve the use of breath-freshening products, prescription medications, or psychological therapy.
Most medical professionals consider halitophobia to be a mental disorder, because the patient cannot usually be convinced that bad breath is not present. A person with this condition may obsessively brush his or her teeth several times per day or constantly chew gum or use breath mints in an effort to mask the imagined mouth odor. Depression and social isolation are common and are typically related to an irrational fear of rejection if someone gets close enough to smell the breath of the person with this disorder.
There are several possible causes for the development of halitophobia, but the direct cause may be so deeply rooted in the psyche that it is never clinically diagnosed. In many cases, the patient has been emotionally traumatized by comments or teasing concerning bad breath. This often occurs during childhood, and the feelings of rejection or ridicule remain with the person into adulthood. Additional causes of halitophobia may involve disorders such as hypochondria or obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychological illnesses that may cause delusions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, may also contribute to the development of halitophobia.
Treatment for halitophobia can be a bit complicated, and it may take a significant amount of time to find a method or combination of methods that work on an individual basis. Breath mints, gum, and other breath fresheners may help in mild cases, but these measures do not address the psychological element of this condition. A dentist can diagnose and treat any dental conditions that may contribute to bad breath, including oral infections or tooth decay. Prescription medications may be needed to treat some of these issues.
A psychological evaluation may be recommended for those with severe symptoms associated with a fear of having offensive breath. Therapy may help the patient cope with any irrational fears or delusions and may assist the patient in changing perceptions of previous traumatic events. Any underlying delusional disorders can be diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist.