Understanding Illyngophobia or the Fear of Vertigo

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Those who suffer from illyngophobia, the fear of vertigo (dizziness), are not afraid of the height itself, but of developing vertigo when looking down.


Illynogophobia is related to acrophobia, the fear of heights, but is not the same. Those with acrophobia are literally afraid of being at a significant height. The difference is subtle, and a trained clinician can make a proper diagnosis.

Most people report some level of discomfort with heights. Gibson and Walk's famous 1960 "Visual Cliff" experiments, detailed in "Acrophobia," showed that babies are reluctant to cross a thick pane of glass covering an apparent drop.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness and causes you to feel like your:

  • Spinning
  • Swaying
  • Tilting
  • In a moving room
  • Moving

There are two types of vertigo and both can be exacerbated by heights, particularly when looking down from a ledge:

  1. Subjective vertigo, the sufferer feels like he or she is moving or swaying.
  2. Objective vertigo, the sufferer feels like objects are moving around him or her.

A number of pre-existing conditions and medications can cause vertigo, including:


If you suffer from illyngophobia it is not unusual to believe that you have vertigo. These two phobias can induce many of the same symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


The cause of illyngophobia is often, although not always, a negative experience with heights experienced by you or someone else. Perhaps you fell off the sofa as a child or watched someone fall, either in person or on television.

Evolutionary psychologists believe illyngophobia may be an extreme variation on a normal evolutionary survival mechanism.


Many occupations require employees to work at significant heights. Those with severe illyngophobia may be unable to work even inside an office on a high floor. City dwellers may limit their choice of apartments as they are unwilling to live above the first floor.

If you suffer from illyngophobia, you may develop the symptoms of medical vertigo. This can further increase your anxiety as you now believe that you have the disorder you feared.


Like other specific phobias, you require treatment if the phobia interferes with your living a "normal" life.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common and most effective treatments for illyngophobia and other specific phobias. The therapist teaches you how to replace your negative thoughts about being at heights with positive ones. You will learn to relax as you confront progressively more challenging heights through a process known as systematic desensitization.

Although the fear of vertigo can be life-limiting, treatment is successful in the vast majority of cases.

In Popular Culture

The best-known example of illyngophobia in popular culture is Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo. In the film, a police detective develops vertigo after seeing a fellow officer fall to his death during a rooftop chase. Throughout the film, the detective's condition is shown to be psychological in nature and he is able to conquer vertigo at the end, albeit at a terrible price.

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  • Washington, DC: Author. Gibson, E. J., & Walk, R. D. "The 'visual cliff'." Scientific American. 1960. 202, 67-71.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.