Phobia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Adult alone and afraid.

What Is Phobia?

A phobia is a very strong irrational fear or dislike for a situation, object, living creature or place. Fear is probably one thing that most people can relate with regardless of their age, gender, race or status. From time to time, we all experience situations that makes us afraid. Fear is a natural response to perceived or actual danger. It is normal and completely rational for you to be afraid if you are about to drown. If, however, after you have been rescued, you develop a strong fear for water such that you have panic attacks at the sight or thought of a bathtub, a swimming pool, a river, or an ocean, then, that fear is called phobia.

A phobia is a type of mental health disorder that affects millions of people all over the world. Although phobias are characterized as mental disorders, people who have phobias are very much in touch with reality, despite the irrational nature of their fear. A person who has a phobia usually experiences a strong sense of fear or panic when they are faced or confronted with their source of fear. Even though the specific object or situation may pose no threat or cause them harm, they are yet unable to stop being afraid of it.

People with phobias usually feel helpless in overcoming their strong fear or dislike despite knowing that their fear is not rational. Usually, the fear is about some terrible outcome and not of the thing itself. The imagined threat is often a lot greater than the actual threat, if any. For example, a person with vehophobia (fear of driving) may not necessarily be afraid of driving in itself but what may happen (accident) if they drive. Depending on the source of fear, a phobia can hinder a person from having meaningful relationships and from performing well at school or at work.

Phobia Risk Factors

Anyone can have a phobia but it is more common in adolescents, followed by children, women and men. There are certain factors that determine who can have a particular type of phobia. Factors like age, gender, and socioeconomic status, might put a person at a greater risk of developing a specific phobia. There are also other factors which puts a person at a greater risk of developing any type of phobia, and they include:

  1. Genetics. If you have a relative with an anxiety disorder, then you are likely to develop a phobia, and this is especially true for children. If your relative has a particular type of phobia, you may also develop that specific phobia.
  2. Exposure to stressful, distressing or traumatic events. Phobias can develop from experiencing or witnessing others go through traumatic events like a car accident, physical or sexual assault, a war or natural disaster. Mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder may also develop from exposure to these events.
  3. Medical Conditions. If you have any health condition, physical or mental you may likely develop a phobia. An individual who has sustained serious injuries from a fall or an accident is also likely to have a phobia.
  4. Substance Abuse. If you abuse any substance like drugs or alcohol, you are likely to develop a phobia.

Causes of Phobia

a man afraid

A phobia can develop for different reasons, although the cause of a particular phobia may not be exactly known. People who have phobias are usually not able to tell why they have a phobia.

Types of Phobia

You can have a phobia for about anything. From time to time, new phobias are being discovered. Animals, social situations and natural environment are some of the categories within which a phobia can arise. The common ones include:


People who have agoraphobia have intense fear of being in places other than their homes. They are afraid of being alone or being in a situation where they can’t get help or escape.


This is the fear of heights. If you have acrophobia, you would not likely embark on a mountain-climbing mission. You would avoid bridges, climbing or staying on particularly high platforms, and higher floors of a building. You probably would be scared of using a ladder too.


This is the fear of tight or enclosed places. You are likely to avoid being in an elevator, riding in a car, driving or walking through a tunnel if you have claustrophobia.


This is the fear of snakes.


This is the fear of spiders.


If you have aerophobia, you would avoid traveling by air because you have intense fear of flying.


This type of phobia is common among children. It is the fear of being alone.


This is the fear of dogs. You are most likely to develop this type of phobia if you have ever been bitten or attacked by a dog.


This is the fear of blood. A person who has hemophobia cannot stand the sight either of their own blood or others. They also have great fear of injuries.

Social phobia

Also known as social anxiety disorder, people with a social phobia avoid going to parties or any kind of social event. They are afraid of speaking in public. Eating in public, using the restroom, may also be avoided as they have intense fear of being embarrassed in open places. A person of low socio-economic status is more likely to develop this type of phobia.


This the fear of darkness or nighttime. Most children are afraid of dark places and nighttime and it is not considered as a phobia for them, but it is for adolescents and adults.

A man experiencing a panic attack

Symptoms of Phobia

Panic attack is the most common symptom of all types of phobia. Panic attack is sudden onset of fear that causes physical and emotional symptoms when there is no apparent danger or threat. If you have a panic attack, some of the symptoms you would experience include:

  • Dryness of the mouth
  • Inability to speak or fast speech
  • Crying
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Tantrums
  • Fear of losing control
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Shaking of the body
  • Intense feeling to escape
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Nausea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling of being choked
  • Dizziness

Treatment of Phobia

In case you are wondering if phobias can ever be treated, the answer is yes. A phobia can have very distressing effect on a person and can affect a person’s quality of life in significant ways. Some people are able to manage their phobia by avoiding the source of their fear or deal with their anxiety through different coping skills. In some cases, avoidance may not be possible. If you have a phobia and you are unable to manage it, it is important that you seek treatment from a mental health professional.

The treatment of a phobia is usually a combination of medications and therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most effective form of therapy in treating phobias. CBT involves exposing a person to the source of their fear in a safe and controlled environment. The purpose of this treatment is to eliminate anxiety and to identify and change a person’s reaction, thought and perspective to their source of fear.

For example, if you have the fear of insects, as you go through CBT, you may initially be asked to simply think of insects or situations where you might come in close contact with them. The therapist may then proceed to expose you to pictures or videos of insects. Over time, you may go to a place where there are insects. This type of treatment is progressive and with time, you may be able to look at, touch or hold insects without any fear.

There are different types of drugs used in treating a phobia. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed by a mental health professional as a treatment for a phobia. Anxiety supplements may also be recommended. These drugs can help to relieve both the physical and emotional symptoms of panic attacks. Herbs like Jamaican Dogwood Bark can also be helpful in treating anxiety.

In Conclusion

It is possible for you to overcome your phobia and so you don’t have to live with fear for the rest of your life. With treatment, you can completely get over that thing that you are greatly afraid of. If you have not yet begun to seek help, you should do so right away. Your first step would be to seek out a mental health professional near you.