Claustrophobia

Pronounced: Clah-stro-fo-bee-ah

Definition

Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder. The main problem is feeling an irrational fear of closed in or small spaces. People with claustrophobia often say it’s like feeling trapped without a way out. It causes you to react to certain situations. The fear of claustrophobia can be strong. But, it can be treated.

Physical reaction anxiety
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Causes    TOP

The cause isn't well known. It's likely a mix of genes and environment.

Risk Factors    TOP

Your chances of claustrophobia are higher for:

  • Having people in your family with the same problems
  • Feeling very nervous in small room or space
  • Not going in or near places where you had a prior nervous feeling or a panic attack

Symptoms    TOP

Claustrophobia starts when you're a child or teen. It may bring on feelings like a panic attack and cause:

  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Problems breathing
  • Trembling
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of dread or terror

You may also:

  • Look for exit doors when in a room
  • Feel very nervous if doors are shut
  • Not use elevators, subways or airplanes, or cars in heavy traffic
  • Stand near exit doors in crowded places

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on your constant or irrational fear that may:

  • Be started by waiting for something to happen
  • Cause panic attacks linked to the fear-causing situation
  • Make it hard for you to get through your day
  • That is not explained by other disorders

Treatment    TOP

Claustrophobia can go away on its as you get older. If not, it can be treated by getting over your fear. This is done with:

Counseling

The most common method is with counseling. It's targeted help you see and get over your fear. It will also help you control situations that start your feelings.

Methods involve:

  • Learning to relax and see ways to calm the fear when you are in certain places that cause fear.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—Changing how you react to fear when you start to feel it.

Medicines

Your doctor may advice taking medicines. They will help you to control your feelings of panic. They are mainly used as part of counseling.

Prevention    TOP

There is no way to prevent claustrophobia since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
https://adaa.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca
Canadian Psychiatric Association
https://www.cpa-apc.org

References:

Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Updated July 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018.
Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113844/Specific-phobia. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Treatment. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Available at: https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment. Accessed August 29, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 8/29/2018

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