What Is Pyrophobia?

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What Is Pyrophobia?

Pyrophobia refers to the fear of fire. The word "pyrophobia" originates from Greek "pyro" which means fire, and "phobos," meaning fear. Phobias are classified as a type of anxiety disorder. They are characterized by an irrational fear that is out of proportion with the actual threat.

Fire can be dangerous, so some degree of fear and caution is appropriate. Just because you might be afraid that your house could catch fire doesn't mean you have pyrophobia. However, someone with pyrophobia is unable to tolerate even well-controlled, small fires and often exhibits physical symptoms, such as dizziness, when encountering fire.

While there is a lack of research or scientific definitions of how pyrophobia presents specifically, the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition" (DSM-5) provides information on characteristics of phobias.

Symptoms of Pyrophobia

The DSM-5 does not recognize pyrophobia as a distinct mental health condition. However, it does list specific phobias, which are outlined in four categories: animals (such as spiders or dogs), natural environment (such as water or thunder), blood-injection injury, and other objects or situations. The two other types of phobias listed in the DSM-5 are social phobia, which is now called social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.

The DSM-5 lists the criteria to diagnose a specific phobia. To be diagnosed:

  • Typically the fear of fire would be irrational, persistent, and interfere with normal daily functioning.
  • As a result of their fear, a person with pyrophobia may avoid fire altogether.
  • They also may have a persistent and excessive dread or fear of encountering it.

Someone who has pyrophobia may feel dizzy or queasy if they come into close contact with fire. This exposure could be as simple as someone lighting a candle or turning on a gas stove.

When around a fire, someone with severe pyrophobia may also experience:

  • A need to escape
  • Breathlessness
  • Cold and sweaty hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling faint
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Racing heart
  • Trembling

Someone with a specific phobia such as pyrophobia may experience a panic attack if their reaction is more severe.

Diagnosis of Pyrophobia

The DSM-5 criteria for diagnosing a specific phobia include the following:

  • An object or situation that causes a pronounced fear or anxiety, in this case, fire
  • Always makes the person feel this fear or anxiety
  • Active avoidance of fire as a result
  • Fear or anxiety that's not in line with the danger it presents
  • Fear, anxiety, or avoidance lasting six months or more
  • Interference with daily life, causing significant distress
  • Not caused by another medical condition

Causes of Pyrophobia

It's not clear exactly what causes a phobia. However, there are factors that may make someone more at risk than others. For example:

  • Genetic factors: There may be a genetic link to people who have phobias. Twin studies suggest that genetic factors play a part in the risk of developing a specific phobia.
  • Environmental factors: A negative or traumatic experience with fire, such as having to escape a house fire or being in another life-threatening event involving fire, may trigger pyrophobia in a person.

In many cases, genes and the environment may both contribute. Having certain gene combinations may predispose a person to a higher risk for anxiety conditions such as phobias, while environmental exposure or traumatic experience might then contribute to the onset of the condition.

Impact of Pyrophobia

Pyrophobia can have a major impact on your daily life. Someone with pyrophobia may experience the following:

  • The smell of smoke or a burning smell can cause extreme anxiety or even a panic attack.
  • You may constantly check the stove, boiler, and heating elements of your home.
  • You may be unable to tolerate candles or campfires.
  • You may avoid restaurants with open hearths.

Such symptoms can have a limiting impact on your life, making it difficult to function as you usually would in your daily life. As with all phobias, consider speaking with a mental health professional if a fear of fire begins to limit your activities.

Treatment for Pyrophobia

There are a few treatment options for people who are dealing with a specific phobia. Each person's specific treatment plan may vary depending on their needs and the severity of their symptoms.

Medication

A healthcare provider may indicate that medication could be helpful in managing your pyrophobia. There are certain medications that are prescribed for people with anxiety disorders. They include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are a type of antidepressant that can be helpful for treating anxiety. They work by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical messenger that plays a part in mood.
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications have a sedative effect and work quickly, which makes them effective for treating acute episodes of anxiety or panic. They work by affecting GABA receptors in the brain in order to induce feelings of calmness. However, they carry a risk of dependence and addiction.

Medications may be more effective when they are utilized in conjunction with some form of psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy

People with intense pyrophobia may need to seek help from a psychotherapist. Research has found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are useful in treating specific phobias.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that tries to reframe someone's thoughts. People learn to identify the negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and learn to replace these thoughts with more helpful ones.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy for pyrophobia is the process of exposing the person to fire gradually to subside their fear. This could involve a lit match or candle. Technology-assisted exposure therapy can also be helpful and may be better tolerated than in-person exposure.

Coping With Pyrophobia

In addition to seeking professional treatment for your condition, there are also self-help strategies that can be helpful when coping with a specific phobia such as pyrophobia.

  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, visualization, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation can be useful for inducing feelings of calm and combating anxiety.
  • Social support: Talking to friends or family about your experiences can also be helpful. You may also find it beneficial to join an anxiety support group to get tips and encouragement from people who share your experiences.
  • Face your fears: Avoiding the source of your fears can make feelings of anxiety grow worse over time. Instead of going out of your way, look for ways to safely and slowly expose yourself to the things that you fear.
  • Find distractions: If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of anxiety or panic in response to fire, look for ways to distract yourself. Quick distractions can include reading a book, watching television, or calling a friend.
  • Care for yourself: Self-care strategies such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular physical exercise can make anxiety easier to manage.

A Word From Verywell

Living with any phobia can be very disruptive to your life, but be assured that with proper treatment, you can manage your symptoms of pyrophobia. If you are experiencing symptoms that are keeping you from your normal daily activities such as eating, sleeping, or working, it's important to reach out to a mental health professional as soon as you can to get relief.

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11 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.
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