| Risk Factors
A phobia is an intensely fearful response to a situation or object.
Phobias can interfere with different aspects of your life. Most phobias develop in childhood, though some develop during adulthood.
There are many kinds of phobias, which can be grouped into these categories:
- Agoraphobia—Fear of being trapped in places or situations where escape could be difficult or impossible.
- Social phobia—Fear of social situations and being judged or evaluated by others.
- Specific phobia—Fear of a specific object or a situation.
The cause of phobias is unknown. It may be a combination of genetic factors, family environment, critical life stressors, and underlying temperament that interact to enhance or trigger cerebral fear networks.
People with phobias cannot control their
Phobias are more common in women than in men. They also tend to run in families.
You may have an increased chance of developing a phobia if:
- You have an immediate family member with a phobia
- You have a significant stressful event in your past such as trauma, family difficulties, or physical illness
Symptoms occur when you are exposed to the object or situation that you fear. Your fear may become more intense if you can't easily get away from it.
Psychological symptoms may include:
- Having intense feelings of panic and extreme anxiety when exposed to the phobia
- Being afraid that you are going to be hurt, losing control, going crazy, or dying
- Having a feeling of unreality or being detached from your body
- Being aware that the fear is abnormal, but not being able to control your reaction
- Feeling the desire to flee from your fear or taking extreme steps to avoid it
- Experiencing fear that interferes with your daily activities
Physical symptoms may include:
- Racing, pounding, or skipping heartbeat
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Lightheadedness, feeling faint
- Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
- Hot or cold flashes
- Shaking or trembling
Physical Effects of Anxiety
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and psychological exam will be done.
There are no tests that can diagnose phobias. The diagnosis will be made based on your symptoms.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment may include 1 or more of the following:
Therapy will be based on your individual needs. It may be done in combination with other treatment methods. Some therapy options include:
- Exposure therapy—Confront your fear in a planned and controlled way with a therapist. It may begin with thinking about the fear and slowly progress to being exposed to it. You may also learn relaxation techniques. These help to reduce panic and anxiety.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy—Work with your therapist to learn strategies to cope with your fear. You learn to change your beliefs and thoughts surrounding the fear and how it affects your life.
You may also benefit from joining a
Your doctor may recommend medication to reduce panic and anxiety attacks. Medications may include:
- Anti-anxiety medications
There are no current guidelines to prevent phobias.
Agoraphobia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116901/Agoraphobia. Updated October 17, 2014. Accessed February 19, 2016.
Anxiety and stressor-related disorders. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at:
http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric_disorders/anxiety_and_stressor-related_disorders/overview_of_anxiety_disorders.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed February 19, 2016.
Phobias. Mental Health America website. Available at:
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/phobias. Accessed February 19, 2016.
Phobias and fears. Help Guide website. Available at:
http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/phobias-and-fears.htm. Updated March 2016. Accessed March 17, 2016.
Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115906/Social-anxiety-disorder. Updated July 12, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2016.
Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113844/Specific-phobia. Updated March 13, 2013. Accessed FFebruary 19, 2016.
Last reviewed March 2017 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
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