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Phobias: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About phobias

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by strong, irrational fear of a situation, activity, or thing that impels one to want to avoid it. There are different kinds of phobias: Phobia against fear of heights is termed acrophobia, fear of public places is termed as agoraphobia, and claustrophobia is the fear of being in closed places. If one is extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, one could have a social phobia. Other common phobias involve fear of tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals and blood.

Phobias: Incidence, age and sex

Many people suffer from some kind of phobia and they may afflict up to 28 out of every 100 people. Women are more likely to suffer from phobias as compared with men.

Signs and symptoms of phobias: Diagnosis

People with phobias try to avoid what they are fearful of. Such individuals may exhibit panic and fear if they come across such situations. Other clinical features include breathlessness, palpitations, trembling and a strong desire to get away from source of fear.

Alcoholics may suffer more from a phobia than non-alcoholics. Phobic individuals can be twice more likely to suffer from an alcohol addiction than those who have never been phobic.

Causes and prevention of phobias

There is no specific known cause for phobias but there is one school of thought that phobias run in families. Phobias may sometimes be influenced by culture, upbringing or even triggered by life events. They may also show a genetic tendency.

Children whose parents either were overly protective or were distant in raising them may be at increased risk of developing phobias. Phobia sufferers have been found to be more likely to manage stress by avoiding the stressful situation and by having difficulty minimizing the intensity of the fearful situation. One may also develop a phobia by classical conditioning in which a person responds to something frightening by generalizing the fear of that specific object or situation, e.g., an individual may respond to a real threat by one dog, to a fear of all dogs.

Phobias: Complications

If left untreated, a phobia may get worse and affect the individual’s quality of life. For example, a fear of flying may result in the individual being unable to travel. Anxiety arising from phobia may increase the risk of heart disease.

Phobias: Treatment

The mainstay of treatment of phobia is psychotherapy which is supposed to be very effective. It involves the technique of ‘desensitization’. One may try to gradually expose the individual with a certain phobia to circumstances that are increasingly close to the one they are phobic about (desensitization). Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has also been found to significantly decrease phobic symptoms by helping the phobia sufferer change his or her way of thinking. Phobias are also sometimes treated using medications such as beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.