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Specific Phobia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is specific phobia?

Specific phobia is a condition that causes a strong fear of a specific object or situation. You may have severe anxiety or fear when you are faced with that object or situation. You know you have these feelings, but you cannot talk yourself out of them. You may avoid certain objects or activities. Specific phobia can interfere with your daily activities.

What are the types of specific phobia?

You may have one or more of the following phobias:

  • Animals or insect , such as fear of snakes, bats, cockroaches, or birds
  • Blood or injection , such as fear of surgery, injuries, shots, needles, or going to the dentist
  • Natural environment , such as fear of heights, water, or thunder
  • Situational , such as fear of small or dark spaces, elevators, or flying in an airplane
  • Other phobias , such as fear of choking, vomiting, or catching an illness

What increases my risk for specific phobia?

The cause of specific phobia is unknown. Any of the following may increase your risk:

  • A bad experience with a certain object or situation or seeing someone get hurt
  • A close family member with a phobia or anxiety problem
  • Mental health problems, such as separation anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder
  • Parents who show a lot of fear and worry about certain things

What are the signs and symptoms of specific phobia?

  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, or lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Shaking, trembling, or tense muscles
  • Sweating

How is specific phobia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your fears, worries, and behavior. Tell him or her about your signs and symptoms and how they are affecting your life. Your provider will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse. Tell him or her if you drink alcohol or use drugs.

How is specific phobia treated?

  • Medicines may help treat your phobia and keep you calm and relaxed.
  • Therapy:
    • Exposure, or desensitization, therapy helps you face a feared object or situation in a controlled setting. During this therapy, you are slowly placed in contact with the feared object or situation. The goal of this therapy is to help decrease your anxiety until you can control your fear.
    • Cognitive therapy helps you learn which thoughts bring anxiety. It can help you change these thoughts to make them more positive.
    • Relaxation therapy includes exercises to calm your body or tense your muscles to prevent yourself from fainting.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my phobia?

  • Keep a record of how you feel when you face your fear. Write down any signs and symptoms, including what you did to cope with your fear. The log will help you and your provider see if you have less fear over time. Take the log with you to your follow-up visits.
  • Learn more about specific phobia. Ask your provider where to find more information about specific phobia. Ask for the names of books that might help you manage worry and anxiety.
  • Practice being around things that you fear while in a familiar environment. Use the techniques you learned in therapy to cope with your fear. Continue to practice facing your fears, even after treatment. This will help decrease the chances of your specific phobia returning.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have new symptoms since you last saw your provider.
  • Your worry keeps you from doing tasks, such as work or caring for yourself or your family.
  • You feel depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel lightheaded or dizzy, or you faint.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.
  • You want to harm yourself or others.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.