Information on phobias

Phobia - Harvard Health

What Is It?

A phobia is a persistent, excessive, unrealistic fear of an object, person, animal, activity or situation. It is a type of anxiety disorder. A person with a phobia either tries to avoid the thing that triggers the fear, or endures it with great anxiety and distress. 

Some phobias are very specific and limited. For example, a person may fear only spiders (arachnophobia) or cats (ailurophobia). In this case, the person lives relatively free of anxiety by avoiding the thing he or she fears. Some phobias cause trouble in a wider variety of places or situations. For example, symptoms of acrophobia (fear of heights) can be triggered by looking out the window of an office building or by driving over a high bridge. The fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) can be triggered by riding in an elevator or by using a small restroom. People with these phobias may need to alter their lives drastically. In extreme cases, the phobia may dictate the person's employment, job location, driving route, recreational and social activities, or home environment.  

There are three major types of phobia: 

  • Specific phobia (simple phobia). With this most common form of phobia, people may fear specific animals (such as dogs, cats, spiders, snakes), people (such as clowns, dentists, doctors), environments (such as dark places, thunderstorms, high places) or situations (such as flying in a plane, riding on a train, being in a confined space). These conditions are at least partly genetic (inherited) and seem to run in families. 
  • Social anxiety disorder (formerly called "social phobia"). People with social anxiety disorder fear social situations where they may be humiliated, embarrassed or judged by others. They become particularly anxious when unfamiliar people are involved. The fear may be limited to performance, such as giving a lecture, concert or business presentation. Or it may be more generalized, so that the phobic person avoids many social situations, such as eating in public or using a public restroom. Social phobia seems to run in families. People who have been shy or solitary as children, or who have a history of unhappy or negative social experiences in childhood, seem more likely to develop this disorder. 
  • Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in public places where it would be difficult or embarrassing to make a sudden exit. A person with agoraphobia may avoid going to a movie or a concert, or traveling on a bus or a train. Many people with agoraphobia also have panic symptoms or panic disorder (which involves intense fear plus uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as trembling, heart palpitations and sweating). 

Childhood phobias occur most commonly between the ages of 5 and 9, and tend to last a short while. Most longer-lasting phobias begin later in life, especially in people in their 20s. Adult phobias tend to last for many years, and they are less likely to go away on their own, unless they are treated. Phobia can increase an adult's risk of other types of psychiatric illness, especially other anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse. 


The symptoms of phobia are: 

  • Excessive, unreasonable, persistent feelings of fear or anxiety that are triggered by a particular object, activity or situation. 
  • Feelings are either irrational or out of proportion to any actual threat. For example, while anyone may be afraid of an unrestrained, menacing dog, most people do not run away from a calm, quiet animal on a leash. 
  • Avoidance of the object, activity or situation that triggers the phobia. Because people who have phobias recognize that their fears are exaggerated, they are often ashamed or embarrassed about their symptoms. To prevent anxiety symptoms or embarrassment, they avoid the triggers for the phobia.  
  • Anxiety-related physical symptoms. These can include tremors, palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea or other symptoms that reflect the body's "fight or flight" response to danger. (Symptoms such as these may lead to a diagnosis of panic disorder.) 


A mental health professional is likely to ask about current symptoms and family history, particularly whether other family members have had phobias. You may want to report any experience or trauma that may have set off the phobia – for example, a dog attack leading to a fear of dogs. 

It may be helpful to discuss how you react – your thoughts, feelings and physical symptoms – when you are confronted with the thing you fear. Also, describe what you do to avoid fearful situations, and how the phobia affects your daily life, including your job and your personal relationships. 

Your doctor will ask about depression and substance use because many people with phobias have these problems as well.

Expected Duration

In children, specific phobias can be short-term problems that disappear within a few months. In adults, about 80% of new phobias become chronic (long-term) conditions that do not go away without proper treatment.


There is no way to prevent a phobia from starting. However, treatment can reduce the negative impact of the disorder.


Treatment usually includes some combination of psychotherapy and medication depending on the type of phobia: 

  • Specific phobia. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help, especially a procedure called either desensitization therapy or exposure therapy. This technique involves gradually increasing your exposure to the thing you fear, at your own pace, under controlled circumstances. As you are exposed to the object, you are taught to master your fear through relaxation, breathing control or other anxiety-reducing strategies. For short-term treatment of phobias, your doctor may prescribe an antianxiety medication. If the phobia is confronted only occasionally, as in a fear of flying, the use of medication can be limited. 
  • Social anxiety disorder. If your social phobia centers on one particular performance (for example, giving a lecture or playing in a concert), your doctor may prescribe a medication called a beta-blocker such as propranolol (Inderal). This medicine can be taken just prior to the performance. It dampens the physical effects of anxiety (pounding heart or trembling fingers), but usually does not affect the mental sharpness needed for speaking or the physical dexterity needed for playing an instrument. For more generalized or long-term forms of social phobia, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant, usually an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) such as sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), paroxetine (Paxil) or fluoxetine (Prozac). If an SSRI is not effective, your doctor may prescribe an alternative antidepressant or antianxiety medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy also works well for many people with social phobia, in both individual and group settings. 
  • Agoraphobia. The treatment for this disorder is similar to the treatment for panic disorder. Drug treatment includes SSRI antidepressants, and a variety of other types of antidepressants, such as mirtazapine (Remeron), venlafaxine (Effexor), clomipramine (Anafranil) and imipramine (Tofranil). Psychotherapy is also helpful, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy. 

When To Call a Professional

Make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible if you are troubled by fears or anxieties that are disturbing your peace of mind; interfering with your personal relationships; or preventing you from functioning normally at home, school or work.


The outlook is very good for people with specific phobia or social phobia. According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, about 75% of people with specific phobias overcome their fears through cognitive-behavioral therapy, while 80% of those with social phobia find relief from medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination.  

When agoraphobia occurs with panic disorder, the prognosis is also good. With appropriate treatment, 30% to 40% of patients become free of symptoms for extended periods, while another 50% continue to experience only mild symptoms that do not significantly affect daily life.

Additional Info

American Psychiatric Association

National Institute of Mental Health

American Psychological Association

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Phobias | Johns Hopkins Medicine

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an uncontrollable, irrational, and lasting fear of a certain object, situation, or activity. This fear can be so overwhelming that a person may go to great lengths to avoid the source of this fear. One response can be a panic attack. This is a sudden, intense fear that lasts for several minutes. It happens when there is no real danger.

Who is affected by phobias?

About 19 million Americans have one or more phobias that range from mild to severe. Phobias can happen in early childhood. But they are often first seen between ages 15 and 20. They affect both men and women equally. But men are more likely to seek treatment for phobias.

What causes phobias?

Research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the start of phobias. Certain phobias have been linked to a very bad first encounter with the feared object or situation. Mental health experts don’t know if this first encounter is necessary or if phobias can simply occur in people who are likely to have them.

What are the main types of phobias?

Specific phobia

What is specific phobia?

Specific phobia is an extreme fear of an object or situation that typically isn't harmful.

Examples may include a fear of:

  • Flying (fearing the plane will crash)
  • Dogs (fearing the dog will bite or attack)
  • Closed-in places (fear of being trapped)
  • Tunnels (fearing a collapse)
  • Heights (fear of falling)
What are the characteristics of specific phobia?

People with specific phobia know that their fear is extreme. But they can't overcome it. The problem is diagnosed only when the specific fear interferes with daily activities of school, work, or home life.

There is no known cause, although they seem to run in families. They are also found slightly more often in women. If the object of the fear is easy to avoid, people with phobias may not seek treatment. Sometimes, however, they may make important career or personal decisions to avoid a situation that includes the source of the phobia.

Treatment for specific phobia

When phobias interfere with a person's life, treatment can help. For specific phobias, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure treatment is advised. In exposure therapy, people are gradually exposed to what frightens them until the fear starts to fade. Relaxation and breathing exercises also help to ease symptoms.

Social phobia

What is social phobia?

Social phobia is an anxiety disorder in which a person has significant anxiety and discomfort related to a fear of being embarrassed, humiliated, or scorned by others in social or performance situations. Even when they manage to confront this fear, people with social phobia usually:

  • Feel very anxious before the event or outing
  • Feel intensely uncomfortable throughout the event or outing
  • Have lingering unpleasant feelings after the event or outing

Social phobia often happens with the following:

  • Public speaking
  • Meeting people
  • Dealing with authority figures
  • Eating in public
  • Using public restrooms
What are the characteristics of social phobia?

Although this disorder is often thought of as shyness, they are not the same. Shy people can be very uneasy around others, but they don't have the extreme anxiety in anticipating a social situation. Also, they don't necessarily avoid circumstances that make them feel self-conscious. In contrast, people with social phobia are not necessarily shy at all, but can be completely at ease with some people most of the time.

Most people with social phobia will try to avoid situations that cause distress.

Diagnosing social phobia

Social phobia is diagnosed when the fear or avoidance significantly interferes with normal, routines, or is excessively upsetting.

Social phobia disrupts normal life, interfering with career or social relationships. It often runs in families and may be happen along with depression or alcoholism. Social phobia often starts in early adolescence or even younger. 

Treatment for social phobia

People with social phobia often find relief when treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, medicine, or a mix of both.


What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia involves the fear of having a panic attack in a place or situation from which escape may be hard or embarrassing.

The anxiety of agoraphobia is so severe that panic attacks are not unusual. People with agoraphobia often try to avoid the location or cause of their fear. Agoraphobia involves fear of situations like the following:

  • Being alone outside his or her home
  • Being at home alone
  • Being in a crowd
  • Traveling in a vehicle
  • Being in an elevator or on a bridge

People with agoraphobia typically avoid crowded places like streets, crowded stores, churches, and theaters.

What are the characteristics of agoraphobia?

Most people with agoraphobia get it after first suffering a series of panic attacks. The attacks happen randomly and without warning, and make it impossible for a person to predict what will trigger the reaction. This unpredictability of the panic causes the person to anticipate future panic attacks and, eventually, fear any situation in which an attack may happen. As a result, they avoid going into any place or situation where previous panic attacks have happened.

People with the disorder often become so disabled that they literally feel they cannot leave their homes. Others who have agoraphobia, do go into potentially "phobic" situations, but only with great distress, or when accompanied by a trusted friend or family member.

People with agoraphobia may also have depression, fatigue, tension, alcohol or drug abuse problems, and obsessive disorders, making treatment crucial. 

Fears (phobias)

Fears (phobias, simple phobias) are, as it were, an integral part of the personality of an anxious and suspicious structure and represent a fear of any objects, animals, insects:

  • eichmophobia - fear of sharp objects,
  • arachnophobia - fear of spiders,
  • herpetophobia - fear of snakes,
  • glenophobia - fear of the look of a doll,

or special situations:

  • agoraphobia - fear of open spaces,
  • anthropophobia - fear of people, crowds,
    • incl. syphilophobia,
    • strokeophobia,
    • infarctophobia,
    • cancerophobia,
    • cardiophobia,
  • hypsophobia - fear of heights,
  • homocidophobia - fear of committing murder,
  • Dentophobia - fear of dental intervention,
  • dermatophobia - fear of contracting a skin disease,
  • claustrophobia - fear of closed spaces,
  • maniophobia - fear of insanity,
  • mysophobia - fear of pollution,
  • monophobia - fear of being alone,
  • nosophobia - fear of injury, incurable disease, infection,
  • oxyphobia - fear of sharp objects,
  • pettophobia - fear of society,
  • sitophobia - fear of eating,
  • scoptophobia - fear of seeming ridiculous, attracting attention to oneself,
  • suicidophobia - fear of committing suicide,
  • thanatophobia - fear of sudden death,
  • taphephobia - fear of being buried alive,
  • phobophobia - fear of fear,
  • ereitophobia - fear of blushing,

as well as pantophobia - an all-encompassing obsessive fear. nine0003

Some of them, such as agoraphobia, are classified into separate diagnostic categories, the rest are combined into a group of simple phobias.

The diagnosis of simple phobia is usually established after exclusion of agoraphobia and social phobia. A simple phobia, as a rule, is not accompanied by a vegetative complex, although suddenly falling into a phobic situation can provoke a panic attack.

Current and forecast.

nine0002 Phobias can be observed in a variety of nosological units - from neurotic reactions to schizophrenia. The prognosis in each case is determined individually and directly depends on the nosological form - phobias can either disappear, or gradually compensate, or, on the contrary, progress (mainly within the various forms of schizophrenia).


Of the pharmacological preparations for phobias, benzodiazepine (especially triazole) tranquilizers and blockers of beta-adrenergic receptors are most often used, less often - serotonergic and tricyclic antidepressants, reversible MAO inhibitors. nine0003

Of the psychotherapeutic methods, behavioral and rational psychotherapy are mainly used, as well as neurolinguistic programming.

Types of phobias | Clinic prof. Preobrazhensky

Home / Neuroses, depressions, fears / Types of phobias

The concept of phobia

The concept of "phobia" is on everyone's lips, but not everyone can coherently explain what exactly it is. Translated from Greek, "phobia" means "fear, fear." In reality, fears and phobias are very close, but there are significant differences between them. Fear is a natural protective function of the body in the face of a real danger, physiologically manifested in the release of hormones into the blood, heart palpitations, vegetative dysfunctions, etc. An interesting fact can help to understand the nature of fear - a person is born absolutely fearless. Small children are not afraid to fall from a height, drown in a bathtub or touch a fire with their fingers. Only later with experience does the feeling of fear come, and, in general, these fears are useful. Basically, the feeling of such fear helps to get away from dangerous situations or prevent them. This feeling of fear is quite conscious and controlled by common sense and logic. nine0100 Phobias are fears that are characterized by a very significant stability, are not based on common sense (irrational) and are constantly present in the human psyche. Moreover, these fears are most often not in front of a real threat, but fears “within us”. Phobias, unlike fears, are very difficult to control thinking and common sense.

How to distinguish a phobia from a "simple" fear

Consider the difference between fear and phobia using a real example. There are enough people who are afraid to ride the subway. If the cause of fear is fear, it must be caused by certain negative experiences in the past. For example, a person once became ill in the subway. If the reason is fear, then the person will prefer to move around the city by land transport, but if necessary, he will still go down to the subway. Naturally, this will be accompanied by certain experiences, but will be controlled by common sense and logical thinking. In the case of a phobia, the problems will be much more significant, depending on the severity of the phobia. In the mildest cases, a person will still go down to the subway, but any, even the most insignificant, car stops between stations will cause a pre-panic and panic state. In the most difficult cases, a person will not be able to force himself to go down to the subway even in case of emergency, contrary to logic and common sense, and any attempts to force it by other people can cause severe psychological trauma. nine0003

Is it relevant? According to world statistics, every eighth inhabitant of the planet Earth has phobias. Thus, phobias as a type of neurotic disorders (neurosis, depression, fears) are a widespread phenomenon.

Types of phobias. Classification of phobias

More than 500 types of phobias have been described so far. The most common of these are social phobia and agoraphobia.

  • Social phobia is a type of phobia, which is characterized by a pronounced fear of being in the very center of attention of strangers, behaving in such a way that it will cause humiliation or embarrassment. This type of phobia manifests itself in social everyday situations - during a meeting with friends, lunch in a cafe, the need to speak at a meeting, and others. nine0006
  • Agoraphobia - a type of phobia associated with "helplessness if you suddenly feel bad." This type of phobia manifests itself in the fear of traveling unaccompanied, being among strangers.

All other types of phobias are classified into the group of so-called isolated phobias. Below are examples of just a few of them.

Phobias of animals or insects:

  • - cynophobia - fear of dogs;
  • - gatophobia - fear of cats;
  • - arachnophobia - fear of spiders;
  • - ophidophobia - fear of snakes.

Phobias associated with situations:

  • - claustrophobia - fear of closed space;
  • - ochlophobia - fear of crowded places;
  • - monophobia - fear of being alone with oneself;
  • - xenophobia - fear of foreigners, strangers.

Phobias associated with natural forces:

  • - acrophobia - fear of heights;
  • - nyctophobia - fear of darkness, night; nine0006
  • - aquaphobia - fear of water;
  • - pyrophobia - fear of fire;
  • - thalassophobia - fear of the sea.

Health-related phobias:

  • - odontophobia - fear of dental treatment;
  • - bacillophobia - fear of microorganisms;
  • - cardiophobia - fear of cardiovascular diseases;
  • - hematophobia - fear of the sight of blood.

Phobias associated with states and actions:

  • - stasibasiphobia - fear of vertical position and walking; nine0006
  • - stasiphobia - fear of standing;
  • - lalophobia - fear of speaking;
  • - tremophobia - fear of trembling;
  • - basilophobia - fear of walking;
  • - amaxophobia - fear of driving.

Phobias related to objects:

  • - hyalophobia - fear of glass;
  • - macrophobia - fear of large objects;
  • - microphobia - fear of small objects;
  • - computer phobia - fear of computers;
  • - Belonephobia - fear of piercing objects. nine0006

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Doctor of the highest category. More than 35 years experience. Works at the Clinic. prof. F.F. Preobrazhensky since 2001

Symptoms of phobias

Symptoms of phobias are quite diverse. To establish a diagnosis of phobias, at least two of the following anxiety symptoms must be present, and one of them must be in the top four:

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