Phobias Phobia Symptoms, Types, and Treatment By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry Facebook Twitter Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 03, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Megan Maloy/Photodisc/Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Symptoms Types Prevalence Treatments According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm. For example, those with agoraphobia fear being trapped in an inescapable place or situation. Phobia Symptoms Phobic symptoms can occur through exposure to the feared object or situation, or sometimes merely through thinking about the feared object. Typical symptoms associated with phobias include: BreathlessnessDizziness, trembling, and increased heart rateFear of dyingNauseaPreoccupation with the feared objectA sense of unreality In some cases, these symptoms may escalate into a full-scale anxiety attack. In response to these symptoms, some individuals may develop social anxiety disorder (SAD)—previously known as social phobia—and begin to isolate themselves, leading to severe difficulties with functioning in daily life and with maintaining relationships. In other cases, such as with hypochondriasis, a person may seek out medical care due to a constant concern with imagined illnesses or imminent death. Types of Phobias The American Psychiatric Association defines phobias as anxiety disorders and categorizes them into three different types: Agoraphobia: This describes a fear of being trapped in an inescapable place or situation. As a result, the phobic individual may begin to avoid such situations. In some cases, this fear can become so pervasive and overwhelming that the individual even fears to leave their home. Specific phobias: These involve the fear of a particular object (such as snakes or butterflies and moths). Such phobias typically fall into one of four different categories: situational, animals, medical, or environmental. A few examples of common fear objects include spiders, dogs, needles, natural disasters, heights, and flying. Social phobias: A fear of social situations includes an extreme and pervasive fear of social situations. In some cases, this fear may center on a very particular type of social situation such as public speaking. In other instances, people may fear to perform any task in front of other people for fear that they will be somehow publicly embarrassed. More examples of the four major types of specific phobias include: Animal: Fear of snakes, rodents, cats, or birds.Medical: Fear of seeing blood or visiting a doctor.Natural environment: Fear of lightning, water, storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, or mudslides.Situational: Fear of bridges, leaving home, or driving. Prevalence of Social Anxiety Disorder According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social anxiety disorder affects about 7% of adult Americans in a given year and specific phobias affect approximately 9%. In general, women are affected more than men. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, only about 10% of reported phobia cases become life-long phobias. Phobia Treatments There are a number of treatment approaches for phobias, and the effectiveness of each approach depends on the person and their type of phobia. In exposure treatments, the person is strategically exposed to their feared object in order to help them overcome their fear. One type of exposure treatment is flooding, in which the patient is confronted by the feared object for an extended length of time without the opportunity to escape. The goal of this method is to help the individual face their fear and realize that the feared object will not harm them. Another method often used in phobia treatment is counter-conditioning. In this method, the person is taught a new response to the feared object. Rather than panic in the face of the feared object or situation, the person learns relaxation techniques to replace anxiety and fear. This new behavior is incompatible with the previous panic response, so the phobic response gradually diminishes. Counter-conditioning is often used with people who are unable to handle exposure treatments and has been effective for treating children and adolescents. Finally, for both adults and children with social phobia, medication like a low dose of a benzodiazepine or potentially an antidepressant (like a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI) in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy can prove helpful. Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to face your fears in a healthy way. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts A Word From Verywell If you think you may have a phobia, please seek out treatment from a licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. You deserve to develop control of this fear, and you can with proper therapy. List of Phobias: Common Phobias From A to Z 7 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. Garcia R. Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learn Mem. 2017;24(9):462-471. doi: 10.1101/lm.044115.116 Tsitsas GD, Paschali AA. A Cognitive-Behavior Therapy Applied to a Social Anxiety Disorder and a Specific Phobia, Case Study. Health Psychol Res. 2014;2(3):1603. Published 2014 Oct 21. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1603 Burstein M, Georgiades K, He JP, et al. Specific phobia among U.S. adolescents: phenomenology and typology. Depress Anxiety. 2012;29(12):1072–1082. doi:10.1002/da.22008 McLean CP, Asnaani A, Litz BT, Hofmann SG. Gender differences in anxiety disorders: prevalence, course of illness, comorbidity and burden of illness. J Psychiatr Res. 2011;45(8):1027–1035. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.03.006 McGuire JF, Lewin AB, Storch EA. Enhancing exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Expert Rev Neurother. 2014;14(8):893–910. doi:10.1586/14737175.2014.934677 Davis TE 3rd, Ollendick TH, Ost LG. Intensive Treatment of Specific Phobias in Children and Adolescents. Cogn Behav Pract. 2009;16(3):294–303. doi:10.1016/j.cbpra.2008.12.008 Bandelow B, Michaelis S, Wedekind D. Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):93–107. Additional Reading American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (UK). Social Anxiety Disorder: Recognition, Assessment and Treatment. Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society (2013). National Institute of Mental Health. The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America (2013). Richard T.A. Social Anxiety Association. Social Anxiety Fact Sheet: What Is Social Anxiety Disorder? Samra, Chadan K., Abdijadid, Sara. Specific Phobia. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing (2020). By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.