Swine Flu: Handwashers Blase for Now

"We teach these folks who are overly worried about germs to moderate, to put things in perspective and not to go to excess," said Edger. "Yes, we must wash our hands, satisfy our common sense, but we don't want to harm our skin."

Doctors say that a habit becomes an obsession when hand washers go to extremes.

"Sometimes it tips off the diagnosis when we see raw, chafed hands," he told ABCNews.com. "Sometimes people make their hands bleed. It's terribly uncomfortable for the patient and they know it."

Most patients are aware they have an anxiety disorder, but are often ashamed to seek help.

"It becomes a disorder when the worry is out of control and painful to the person and those around them," Edger said. "When you get to the painful consequence of anxiety, that is a disorder."

"This is a real condition and the anxiety is real," he said.

OCD Includes Phobias

Anxiety disorders common and manifest themselves in different ways -- social anxiety and the fear of interacting with people, to phobias like fear of heights.

Doctors believe there is a genetic component. "It's probably a multiplicity of genes and we are not there yet with this as a cause. Certain parts of the brain are oversensitive and overactive and more worried than average."

Treatment starts with "a warm compassionate and empathetic approach."

"Oftentimes people tend to laugh and be judgmental about obsessive compulsive disorder," Edger said. "You have to build a rapport and a relationship and take them seriously."

As for the current swine flu scare, OCD sufferers need to "steer a steady ship," according to Edger, and "not let panic take over."

"The central theme of the condition is worry, worry, worry," he said. "Our job as therapists is to put things in perspective."

"We have marvelous capacity to learn," Edger said. "They learn moderation, what is dangerous and what is not. That is a powerful tool we have as people."

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