For individuals who suffer from phobias, fear becomes extreme and irrational. Those with phobias often have prolonged anxiety that can affect their emotional well being, and their ability to function in their day-to-day routines.

Definition of Phobias

Phobias are intense fears of objects or situations that pose little or no harm in reality. Certain phobias may have their own names, such as acrophobia (fear of heights) and agoraphobia (fear of open or public spaces). Hypochondria is often considered a type of phobia.

Some phobias are related to specific things such as spiders, water, or enclosed places. Others are more general, such as fear of social mishaps while communicating, or fear of being out in public.

Signs of Phobias

Those who suffer from phobias become extremely anxious when exposed to an object or situation that triggers their fear. Some sufferers may become anxious from simply thinking about their fear. Individuals may take great measures to avoid trigger objects or situations.

Symptoms of Phobias

Phobias commonly cause panic attacks, characterized by difficulty breathing, sweating, racing heartbeat, and confusion. Many individuals have specific triggers that make them feel nervous or frightened. Fear transitions into phobia when a situation causes an extreme response. The response lingers with the sufferer on a long-term basis, possibly forever, resulting in panic attacks whenever objects or situations that spark the trigger are presented.

Once a phobia exists, sufferers may go out of their way to avoid triggers. Depending on the nature of the phobia, this can make it difficult for sufferers to work, drive, care for children, spend time outside, or participate in other essential activities.

Causes of Phobias

Exact causes of phobias are variable, and are often unknown. Some studies indicate that phobias are genetic. It is also theorized that childhood trauma, or observation of family members being frightened or injured, can stick with a child through adulthood, resulting in phobias. Since many phobias develop early in life, adults may not recall the specific events that cause phobias to develop.

Effects of Phobias

Phobias are rarely life threatening, but they can make sufferers unreasonably stressed. Some phobias also inhibit quality of life, and make it difficult for sufferers to gain employment or education.

Treatment for Phobias

Many phobias are manageable inconveniences. Phobias that make it difficult for the sufferer to work, or otherwise function normally, should be treated by a psychological professional. Treatment usually does not eliminate the phobia, but can help the sufferer manage his or her reaction to the object or situation.

Medications such as anti-depressants, beta blockers, and sedatives may be prescribed to manage the effects of phobias. Anti-depressants can alter the mood, dulling the intensity of feelings brought on by the phobia. Beta blockers control the effects of adrenaline, relieving such symptoms as rapid heart rate and sweating. Sedatives help the sufferer feel more relaxed when exposed to a trigger.

Psychotherapy may be recommended instead of, or in addition to medication. Methods may include gradual, repeated exposure to triggers (Exposure Therapy). Other therapy options include discussing the phobia and learning techniques to control responses.


  1. Phobias. Medline Plus. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from
  2. Phobias. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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