A phobia is strong fear or dread of a thing or event, which is out of proportion to the reality of the situation. The most effective treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy. Antidepressant medication also helps in many cases.
What are the symptoms of phobia?
If you come near to, or into contact with, the feared situation you become anxious or distressed. In addition you may also have one or more unpleasant physical symptoms. Read more about anxiety symptoms.
The physical symptoms are partly caused by the brain which sends lots of messages down nerves to various parts of the body when you are anxious. In addition, you release stress hormones - such as adrenaline (epinephrine) - into the bloodstream when you are anxious. These can also act on the heart, muscles and other parts of the body to cause symptoms.
You may even become anxious by just thinking of the feared situation. You end up avoiding the feared situation as much as possible, which can restrict your life and cause distress.
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There are different types of phobia
Social anxiety disorder
This is also known as social phobia and it is possibly the most common phobia. See the separate leaflet called Social Anxiety Disorder for more details.
This too is common. Many people think that agoraphobia means a fear of public places and open spaces. But this is just part of it. If you have agoraphobia you tend to have a number of fears of various places and situations. See the separate leaflet called Agoraphobia for more details.
Other specific phobias
There are many other phobias of a specific thing or situation - for example:
- Fear of confined spaces or of being trapped (claustrophobia).
- Fear of certain animals.
- Fear of injections or needles.
- Fear of vomiting.
- Fear of being alone.
- Fear of choking.
- Fear of the dentist.
- Fear of flying.
However, there are many others, some quite rare.
What is the treatment for phobias?
Cognitive and behavioural therapies
These therapies help you to change certain ways that you think, feel and behave. They are useful treatments for various mental health problems, including phobias.
CBT usually works well to treat most phobias but does not suit everyone. However, it may not be available on the NHS in all areas. See the separate leaflet called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for more details.
Antidepressants are commonly used to treat depression. However, they also help to reduce the symptoms of phobias (particularly agoraphobia and social phobia), even if you are not depressed. There are different types of antidepressant. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are the ones most commonly used for anxiety and phobic disorders.
Further reading and references
Social anxiety disorder: recognition assessment and treatment; NICE Clinical Guideline (May 2013)