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Everything you need to know about phobias

A phobia is a form of anxiety disorder which causes an person to experience intense, irrational fear over a situation, living creature, place, or object.

If an individual has a phobia, they will sometimes shape their lives in order to escape what they consider as harmful. The threat envisaged is greater than any real danger presented by the terror source.

Phobias are mental disorders which are diagnosable.

When confronted with the cause of their phobia the individual may experience extreme distress. It can keep them from working properly and leads to panic attacks at times.

Around 19 million people in the US have phobias.

Important facts about phobias

  • Phobias are more serious than simple fear sensations and are not limited to fears of specific triggers.
  • Despite individuals being aware that their phobia is irrational, they cannot control the fear reaction.
  • Symptoms may include sweating, chest pains, and pins and needles.
  • Treatment can include medication and behavioral therapy.
  • 19 million people in the United States have a phobia.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an intense, irrational fear.
A phobia is an intense, irrational fear.

A phobia is a fear of distortion and of irration.

Also, the term ‘phobia’ refers to a fear of one particular cause. However, the American Psychiatric Association ( APA) does recognize three types of phobia. Including:

Specific phobia: An intense, irrational fear of a particular trigger.

Public phobia, or social anxiety: This is a profound fear of public embarrassment and being called out or criticized in a social situation by others. For someone with social anxiety the idea of large social gatherings is terrifying. It’s not exactly the same as shyness.

Agoraphobia: It is a fear of conditions from which it would be hard to escape if a person suffered intense panic, such as being in a lift or outside the house. This is often misunderstood as a dislike of open spaces but may also be attributed to being trapped in a restricted room, such as an elevator, or being on public transport. Individuals with agoraphobia are at greater risk of developing panic disorder.

Specific phobias are known as simple phobias, as they can be linked to an identifiable cause that may not occur frequently in an individual’s everyday life, such as snakes. Therefore, these are unlikely to greatly impact daily life.

Social anxiety and agoraphobia, since their symptoms are not readily identified, are known since complex phobias. It can also be harder for people with complex phobias to avoid triggers such as leaving the house or being in a large crowd.

Once a person starts planning their lives around avoiding the source of their fear, a phobia becomes diagnosable. This is worse than a normal reaction of fear.


A person with a phobia will experience the symptoms below. They are common across the majority of phobias:

  • a sensation of uncontrollable anxiety when exposed to the source of fear
  • a feeling that the source of that fear must be avoided at all costs
  • not being able to function properly when exposed to the trigger
  • acknowledgment that the fear is irrational, unreasonable, and exaggerated, combined with an inability to control the feelings

When exposed to the object of their phobia a person is likely to experience feelings of panic and intense anxiety. These perceptions may have physical effects including:

  • sweating
  • abnormal breathing
  • accelerated heartbeat
  • trembling
  • hot flushes or chills
  • a choking sensation
  • chest pains or tightness
  • butterflies in the stomach
  • pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • confusion and disorientation
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • headache

Actually thinking about the source of the phobia will create a feeling of anxiety. In younger children , parents may observe that they cry, become very clingy, or attempt to hide behind the legs of a parent or an object. Also, they can throw tantrums to show their distress.

Complex phobias

A complex phobia is much more likely than a simple phobia to affect a person’s wellbeing.

Of example, those suffering agoraphobia may also have a variety of other related phobias. These could include monophobia, or a fear of being left alone, and claustrophobia, a fear of feeling trapped in closed spaces.

A person with agoraphobia will rarely leave his / her home in extreme cases.


The amygdala in the brain is thought to be linked to the development of phobias.
The amygdala in the brain is thought to be linked to the development of phobias.

The most common specific phobias in the U.S. include:

  • Claustrophobia: Fear of being in constricted, confined spaces
  • Aerophobia: Fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
  • Driving phobia: Fear of driving a car
  • Emetophobia: Fear of vomiting
  • Erythrophobia: Fear of blushing
  • Hypochondria: Fear of becoming ill
  • Zoophobia: Fear of animals
  • Aquaphobia: Fear of water
  • Acrophobia: Fear of heights
  • Blood, injury, and injection (BII) phobia: Fear of injuries involving blood
  • Escalaphobia: Fear of escalators
  • Tunnel phobia: Fear of tunnels

They are far from being the only common phobias. People can develop a phobia of practically everything. The number of possible phobias also varies as society changes. Nomophobia, for example, is the fear of missing a mobile phone or computer.

It’s “the obsessive fear of being out of touch with technology” as defined in one paper.


Beginning after age 30 is rare for a phobia and most begin during early childhood , adolescence, or early adulthood.

These can be triggered by a traumatic situation, a frightening incident, or by a parent or member of the household with a phobia that a child can ‘Learn.’

Specific phobias

Those grow usually before 4 to 8 years of age. For certain cases, this may be the result of an early traumatic experience. One example would be the development of claustrophobia over time when a younger child has an uncomfortable experience inside a confined space.

Phobias that begin during infancy can also be triggered by experiencing a family member’s phobia. For example, an infant whose mother has arachnophobia is far more likely to develop the same phobia.

Complex phobias

Further work is needed to clarify exactly why agoraphobia or social anxiety develops in an individual. Actually researchers agree that complex phobias are caused by a mixture of life experiences, brain chemistry and genetics.

These may also be an echo of early human behaviors, leftover from a time when open spaces and unknown individuals usually posed a much greater danger to personal security than in the world today.

How the brain works during a phobia

Many brain regions store and reminisce of dangerous or potentially fatal incidents.

Earlier in life, if a person experiences a similar occurrence, certain areas of the brain recall the traumatic memory, often over once. That triggers the same reaction on the body.

In a phobia, brain regions associated with anxiety and stress tend to improperly recover the terrifying occurrence.

Researchers have found that phobias are often associated with the amygdala which lies behind the brain’s pituitary gland. The amygdala can cause the release of hormones called “fight-or-flight.” Which placed the body and the mind in a state of high alertness and tension.


A lady having psychotherapy
Treatment includes different types of psychotherapy.

Phobias are easily treatable, and people who have them are almost always conscious of their condition. This helps much in the diagnosis.

Speaking to a psychologist or psychiatrist is a useful first step in the treatment of an already identified phobia.

If the phobia doesn’t cause serious problems, most people find that avoiding the source of their fear simply helps them stay in control. Many individuals with serious phobias are not likely to seek help, because such concerns are always convenient.

The causes of certain phobias can’t be prevented, as is also the case with complex phobias. In these situations, the first step towards rehabilitation might be to talk to a mental health professional.

Most phobias can be treated with appropriate treatment. For every person with a phobia there is no single treatment that works. Treatment needs to be personalized to the patient to make it effective.

The doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist may recommend conduct therapy, drugs, or a combination of both. The therapy aims to alleviate symptoms of fear and anxiety and to help people control their responses to their phobia object.


The following medications are effective for the treatment of phobias.

Beta blockers: These can help reduce the physical signs of anxiety that can accompany a phobia.

Side effects may include an upset stomachfatigue, insomnia, and cold fingers.

Antidepressants: Inhibitors of serotonin reuptake (SSRIs) are widely prescribed for people with phobias. We affect brain serotonin levels, and this can lead to better moods.

Initially, SSRIs can cause nausea, sleeping problems and headaches.

If the SSRI does not succeed, a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) may be prescribed by your doctor for social phobia. People on an MAOI may need to avoid those types of food. Initially, side effects may include dizziness, an irritated stomach, restlessness, headaches, and insomnia.

Additionally, taking a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), such as clomipramine, or anafranil, was found to improve symptoms of phobia. Sleepiness, blurred vision, constipation, urination problems, irregular heartbeat, dry mouth, and tremors can be the main side effects.

Tranquilizers: Benzodiazepines are an example of a tranquilizer for a phobia. Those can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. The sedatives should not be given to people with a history of alcohol dependence.

Behavioral therapy

There are a variety of methods for treating a phobia with therapy.

Desensitization therapy, or relaxation therapy: It may help people with a phobia improve their reaction to fear. Over a series of escalating steps, they are gradually exposed to the cause of their phobia. A person with aerophobia, or a fear of flying on an airplane, for example, may take the following steps under guidance:

  1. They will first think about flying.
  2. The therapist will have them look at pictures of planes.
  3. The person will go to an airport.
  4. They will escalate further by sitting in a practice simulated airplane cabin.
  5. Finally, they will board a plane.

Cognitive behavioral therapy ( CBT): The physician, therapist, or psychologist helps the individual with a phobia learn new ways to interpret and respond to the cause of their phobia. This may promote coping. Most significantly, CBT will help a person who is experiencing phobia to control their own thoughts and feelings.


Phobias can be an individual’s source of genuine and continued distress. In most cases, however, they are treatable, and the source of fear is very often avoidable.

When you have a phobia you should never be afraid to seek assistance. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers a useful resource to locate a therapist. We also deliver a variety of discussions about how to conquer common phobias.

Chukwuebuka Martins

Chukwuebuka MartinsĀ is a writer, researcher, and health enthusiast who specializes in human physiology. He takes great pleasure in penning informative articles on many aspects of physical wellness, which he then thoroughly enjoys sharing to the general public.