What are phobias?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an extreme and debilitating fear of a place, situation, animal, or feeling. It is usually irrational, either by its very nature or by the level of fear experienced, often leading patients to go to great lengths to avoid the source of that fear.

There are many different types of phobias, but they can be grouped into two main categories: specific/simple phobias and complex phobias.

Simple phobias, also known as specific phobias, usually develop in childhood or adolescence. These include animal phobias, environmental phobias (e.g., heights, germs, deep water), body phobias (e.g., blood, vomiting, injections) sexual phobias (e.g., STIs, performance anxiety) and situational phobias (e.g., flying, visiting hospitals, stage fright, etc.).

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an extreme and debilitating fear.

Complex phobias usually develop in adulthood and involve intense fear and/or anxiety provoked by a particular situation. The most common are agoraphobia and social phobia. These tend to be more debilitating than simple phobias, seriously affecting patients’ lives.

The most common phobias are arachnophobia (fear of spiders), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of small spaces) and agoraphobia (fear of open and public places).

What are the symptoms?

Some people with phobias may not experience any symptoms until they are confronted with what they fear, while others may panic at the mere thought of it. As an anxiety disorder, the following symptoms may manifest:

  • Rapid heart rate/ palpitations.
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Mild dizziness/ light-headedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors
  • Abdominal pain/discomfort
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Causes or how it occurs

It is usually difficult to say what causes a phobia, as each case is unique. Simple phobias are often traced back to a particular event or trauma, or in some cases are learned from influential figures in the patient’s childhood, such as parents or siblings. Genetics are thought to play a role in anxiety disorders, meaning that some people may be born with a predisposition to develop phobias.