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What is a phobia?

A phobia is a fear which is caused by a specific object or situation. The fear can be caused by the actual presence of or by the anticipation of the presence of that object or situation. Anxiety, triggered by the fear, can approach the intensity of panic.

The following is a list of the most common phobias

  • Achluophobia - fear of being in darkness
  • Acrophobia - fear of heights
  • Agoraphobia - fear of open spaces or fear of leaving home
  • Claustrophobia - fear of being in closed spaces
  • Demophobia - fear of being in crowded places
  • Mysophobia - fear of germs or dirt
  • Social phobia - fear of being around unfamiliar people in social situations
  • Xenophobia - fear of strangers

Other phobias include:

  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of insects
  • Fear of certain animals
  • Fear of flying on planes
  • Fear of the sight of blood
  • Fear of certain foods
  • Fear of using public restrooms
  • Fear of the dentist

What characteristics are associated with phobias?

Phobias cause characteristics of anxiety. To avoid anxiety, people with phobias try to avoid any situation they know would cause them to feel anxious and/or which might lead to a panic attack.

Are there genetic factors associated with phobias?

Yes, there are genetic factors associated with phobias. Many people who have phobias have relatives with similar phobias or symptoms such as fears and/or a tendency to avoid certain situations.

Do phobias affect males, females, or both?

In the United States more women than men suffer from phobias.

At what age do phobias appear?

Phobias frequently begin in childhood. A toddler who throws tantrums by crying and clinging to his/her parents may have a phobia. Personal trauma and stress can sometimes trigger a phobia. For instance, a person who was once trapped in a small room might later become frightened of closed spaces.

How common are phobias?

More than ten percent (10%) of the population in the United States has some form of phobia. It is the most common mental disorder in the United States.

How are phobias diagnosed?

Phobias are usually diagnosed when people find that their schoolwork, job, or personal relationships are in trouble because of their heightened fears, and they seek professional help. However, phobias are often not diagnosed because people simply learn to avoid situations which cause them anxiety.

How are phobias treated?

The treatment of phobias usually has a behavior therapy focus. In the safety of the therapeutic situation, people with phobias are gradually introduced into the very situation that normally causes them anxiety. They learn that they can control their anxiety while gaining greater and greater exposure to their phobic situation. Cognitive or behavior therapy can be very effective when used in conjunction with relaxation training.

Medication is sometimes prescribed for people with phobias to help them control their anxiety. Some people do well on medications such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or imipramine. Also, mild tranquilizers, like benzodiazepines, can be effective in helping people control the anxiety caused by their phobia.

What happens to someone with a phobia?

The course of a phobia may be quite varied. Some people have mild phobias which can be easily treated and which last only a short time. Others have severe anxieties, and they suffer from their phobias for many years. Chronic phobias can cause major disruptions in school, at work, and/or with personal relationships.

What can people do if they need help?

If you, a friend, or a family member would like more information and you have a therapist or a physician, please discuss your concerns with that person.

Reviewed by athealth on February 6, 2014.