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How Bad Can Phobias Be, Common Types of Phobias and Treatment of Phobia

Phobia is a feeling where a person experiences an unfounded, irrational and profound fear of something or someone.(1) A person suffering from phobia always has a deep panicky feeling of dread when facing the source of their phobia. The fear can be of a certain object, situation or place; and the primary difference between general anxiety disorder and phobia is that phobia is of something or someone specific.

How Bad Can Phobias Be?

The degree of phobia can vary from being annoying to being extremely disabling. Individuals suffering from any phobia do usually understand that their fear is unfounded or irrational; however they can’t do anything about it and are not able to control their fear. Phobias are disabling fears and can interfere with a person’s school, work, personal relationships and other daily life activities.

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About 19 million Americans suffer from some or the other form of phobia which causes lot of difficulty in their lives.(2) It is best to consult your doctor for treating or managing your phobia so you can live a complete and normal life as much as possible.

What are the Causes of Phobia?

Environmental and genetic factors are one of the potential causes of phobias. Children who have someone in their family suffering from anxiety disorder are at higher risk for developing a phobia. Any type of harrowing events, such as an accident or nearly drowning, can lead to development of a phobia. Some of the other causes of phobias can be insect or animal bites; extreme heights and exposure to confined spaces.

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Individuals suffering from any health concern or medical conditions can often develop phobias. People suffering from traumatic brain injuries are at higher risk for developing phobias. Depression and substance abuse are also associated with phobias.

What are the Risk Factors For Developing Phobias?

Individuals who have family history of phobia or having a genetic predisposition to anxiety are at increased risk for developing a phobia. Gender, socioeconomic status and age are risk factors for certain phobias. A good example would be where women are more prone to have animal phobias. Men are more prone to having dentist and doctor phobias. Children or individuals or coming from a low socioeconomic status have a higher risk for developing social phobias.

What are the Symptoms of Phobias?

There are different symptoms of phobias and range from acute mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia where the patient has delusions, auditory hallucinations, anhedonia, paranoia and disorganized symptoms.

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Panic attack is the commonest and disabling symptom of Phobia. Panic attack is characterized by: Shortness of breath; racing heart; dry mouth; inability to speak or rapid speech; upset stomach; increased blood pressure; nausea; shaking or trembling; a choking sensation; profuse sweating; chest tightness/paindizziness and a sense of impending doom.(1)

Phobias can no doubt be irrational; however, individuals suffering from phobias do not fail the reality testing.

What are Some Common Types of Phobias?

  • Social Phobia: Also known as social anxiety disordersocial phobia is where the person feels acute worry and anxiety regarding social situations and it results in self-isolation. (5) The severity of the social phobia can be such that even a simple interaction like answering the phone or ordering at a restaurant can cause panic and havoc for them.
  • Agoraphobia: This type of phobia is where the person has an extreme fear of any situation or places where you can’t escape from.(6) The meaning of Agoraphobia is “fear of open spaces.” Individuals suffering from agoraphobia are afraid of being present in large gatherings or being trapped outside their home and commonly avoid social gatherings and isolate themselves within their homes. People suffering from agoraphobia dread having a panic attack in a place from where they can have difficulty to get out of. People suffering from chronic health issues also are scared that they will experience medical emergency in a social setting where they cannot get help easily.

Other forms of phobias are where many people do not like and fear certain objects or situations; however a true phobia is one where the thought of something interferes with their daily life. Other common phobias are:

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  • Acrophobia: This phobia is fear of heights where individuals suffering from it avoid going on higher floors of buildings, bridges, mountains etc.(7) Symptoms of include: dizziness, sweatingvertigo and feeling as if they’ll lose consciousness.
  • Glossophobia:(8) This is a strong fear of speaking in front of people and is also referred to as performance anxiety. Individuals having this phobia suffer from acute physical symptoms at just the thought of being present and talking to a group of people. Treatment for glossophobia consists of medication or therapy.
  • Claustrophobia: (9) This is a fear of tight or enclosed spaces. Severe claustrophobia can cause lot of disruption and can be disabling as the person cannot even use elevators or travel by cars.
  • Hemophobia:(10, 11) This is an irrational fear of any injury and blood. Individuals suffering from hemophobia often faint at the sight of their own blood or other person’s blood.
  • Nyctophobia: (12) This is the extreme fear of darkness or nighttime and often develops as a childhood fear, and only when it continues after adolescence, it is considered as a phobia.(12)
  • Dentophobia:(13) With this phobia the person has an extreme fear of dentists or getting any dental procedures done. Dentophobia often develops after a distraught experience at a dentist’s clinic and can cause harm as the person suffering from Dentophobia will avoid dental care, even if there is an urgent requirement for it.
  • Aviophobia or Aerophobia:(14, 15, 16) This is an extreme fear of flying.
  • Cynophobia: This is the extreme fear of dogs.(17)
  • Arachnophobia: This is the extreme fear of spiders.(18)
  • Ophidiophobia: This is the extreme fear of snakes.(19)

What is the Treatment for Phobias?

Some of the treatment options for phobias consists of medications, therapeutic techniques, and if needed, both of them.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is the most commonly used therapeutic tool for treating phobias. This therapy consists of exposure of the patient to the source of the fear within controlled environment.(3) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps in deconditioning the patient of the phobia and helps in decreasing the anxiety associated with their phobia.

The aim of CBT is to identify and change the dysfunctional beliefs, negative thoughts and negative reactions to the situation causing the phobic. There are new CBT techniques where virtual reality technology is used to expose the patient to the cause of their phobias in a safe manner.(4)

Medication: Medications for treating phobias consists of anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants to calm down the physical and emotional reactions to the fear. The common treatment modality used for treating phobias is combination of therapy and medications, which shows good results.(4)

Conclusion

It is vital that the patient seek treatment for phobia as this can be a severely debilitating condition where the patient cannot live a normal life. Overcoming the phobias is difficult, but not impossible. Following the treatment as given by the doctor and learning techniques to manage the excessive fear of phobia can help a person in leading a productive, positive and a fearless life.

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