Definition

A phobia is an intense fear to an object or situation. There are three main groups of phobias:

  • Agoraphobia —Fear of being trapped in places or situations that could be hard to escape.
  • Social phobia —Fear of social situations and being judged by others.
  • Specific phobia—Fear of a specific object or a situation.

Causes

The cause is not known. Genetics, the environment, and stressors may play a role.

Risk Factors

Phobias are more common in women. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having a parent, sibling, or child with a phobia
  • Going through a stressful event, such as trauma or illness

Symptoms

Symptoms happen when a person is exposed to the object or situation that they fear. The fear may become more intense if the person cannot easily get away from it.

Mental health problems may be:

  • Intense feelings of panic and worry when exposed to the phobia
  • Fear of getting hurt, losing control, going crazy, or dying
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from one's body
  • Knowing that the fear is not normal, but not being able to control the reaction
  • Wanting to flee from the fear or taking extreme steps to avoid it
  • A fear that gets in the way of daily activities

Physical problems may be:

  • Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness, feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Shaking

Physical Effects of Anxiety
Physiological effects of anxiety

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Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. Tests are not needed.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. More than one treatment may be needed. Choices are:

Therapy

Therapies that may be helpful are:

  • Exposure therapy to confront one's fear in a planned and controlled way with a therapist
  • Relaxation techniques to ease panic and anxiety
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to learn strategies to change a person's beliefs and thoughts surrounding the fear

Medication

The doctor may give:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medicines

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent phobias. The cause is not known.

RESOURCES:

American Psychiatric Association
https://www.psychiatry.org

Anxiety and Depression Association of America
https://adaa.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada
http://www.anxietycanada.ca

Canadian Psychiatric Association
https://www.cpa-apc.org

REFERENCES:

Agoraphobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/agoraphobia. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Overview of anxiety disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/overview-of-anxiety-disorders. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Phobias. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/phobias. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/social-anxiety-disorder. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/specific-phobia. Accessed September 4, 2020.

Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 9/4/2020