Understanding the Causes of Bathmophobia

Causes and Diagnosis From Fear of the Stairs or Slopes

Low Angle View Of Abandoned Building

Robyn Hodgson/EyeEm/Getty Images

Bathmophobia, or the fear of slopes or stairs, is a somewhat complicated phobia. It's quite similar to climacophobia, or the fear of climbing stairs, except in its specific focus. If you have bathmophobia, you might panic when simply observing a steep slope, while people with climacophobia typically experience symptoms only when expected to actually climb or descend. The difference is subtle but important, and can only be accurately diagnosed by a trained clinician.

Bathmophobia can be seen in both children and adults. It is also fairly common among animals, particularly household pets. Dogs trained as service animals may be rejected because of their fear of stairs.

If your child has a fear of stairs or slopes, keep in mind that fears are a normal part of development. Bathmophobia, as with other phobias, is generally not diagnosed in children or adults unless it persists for more than six months.


Bathmophobia may be caused by a wide range of factors. A particularly common cause is an early negative experience with stairs or a steep hill. If you slipped or fell on steep stairs or watched someone else struggle with shortness of breath while climbing, you may be at a greater risk of developing bathmophobia.

Particularly in children, bathmophobia can also be triggered by negotiating or even just contemplating a particularly scary looking set of stairs. One example is a child involved in a local community theater with stairs leading to the backstage costume loft. The stairs were steep and open at the back so you could see down as you climbed them, and the child could imagine slipping through them, even though she didn't ever climb them herself.

Memories of those stairs played into dreams that included struggling to cross a sloped floor that would tilt to near-vertical as she neared her destination in the dreams. She continues to feel apprehension when confronted with a sloped floor or a tricky set of stairs.

Differential Diagnosis

In addition to the above-mentioned climacophobia, bathmophobia may be related to other disorders. Acrophobia, or the fear of heights, is exceptionally common. What appears to be a fear of stairs may, in fact, be a fear of the height that the stairs achieve. Illygnophobia, or the fear of vertigo, can also cause symptoms similar to those of bathmophobia.

Medical causes must also be considered. True vertigo is a medical disorder of the balance system that causes a feeling of spinning or dizziness. The term is also applied medically to similar symptoms that are not caused by a balance disorder. Both types can be worsened by even minor changes in height. By definition, a fear that is reasonable due to an existing medical condition cannot be called a phobia.

If you have medical vertigo, fearing that stairs and slopes may trigger your symptoms does not mean that you also have bathmophobia.


If your clinician determines that your symptoms are caused by bathmophobia, you are likely to receive cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The goal of this type of therapy is to help you replace your fearful thoughts and behaviors with more rational alternatives. You will be taught relaxation exercises to help you remain calm, and slowly introduced to the object of your fear through a process known as systematic desensitization.

Although it takes time, therapy has an excellent success rate in treating this type of phobia. Choosing a therapist that you trust is an essential component in working through your fear.

Was this page helpful?
4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Edwards P, Hazel S, Browne M, Serpell J, Mcarthur M, Smith B. Investigating risk factors that predict a dog's fear during veterinary consultations. PLoS ONE. 2019;14(7):e0215416. doi:10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0215416

  2. Wardenaar K, Lim C, Al-hamzawi A, Alonso J, Andrade L, Benjet C, Bunting B, de Girolamo G, Demyttenaere K, Florescu S, Gureje O, Hisateru T, Hu C, Huang Y, Karam E, Kiejna A, Lepine J,Navarro-Mateu F,Browne M, Piazza M, Posada-Villa J, Have M, Torres Y, Xavier M, Zarkov Z, Kessler R, Scott K, de Jonge P. The cross-national epidemiology of specific phobia in the World Mental Health Surveys. Psychol Med. 2017;47(10):1744-1760. doi:10.1017%2FS0033291717000174

  3. Dommaraju S, Perera E. An approach to vertigo in general practice. Aust Fam Physician. 2016;45(4):190-4.

  4. Kaczkurkin A, Foa E. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015;17(3):337-46.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Washington, DC; 2013.