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 defined as being afraid of something in a way that is out of proportion with the actual threat. Basically, the fear is irrational. Phobias are classified as a type of anxiety disorder.

Some fear of fire is appropriate since it can be dangerous. Just because you might be afraid that your house could catch fire doesn't mean you suffer from 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

The DSM-5 does not mention pyrophobia. 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.

To be diagnosed, typically the 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 my have a persistent and excessive dread or fear of encountering it. The DSM-5 lists the criteria to diagnose a specific phobia.

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 fire, someone with severe pyrophobia may also experience:

  • Loss of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling faint
  • Trembling
  • A need to get away

Other general physical symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Cold and sweaty hands
  • Racing heart

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

Diagnosis

The DSM-5 criteria for diagnosing a specific phobia includes 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

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.
  • 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.

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.

As with all phobias, consider speaking with a mental health professional if a fear of fire begins to limit your activities.

Treatment

There are a few treatment options for people who are dealing with a specific phobia.

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:

  • SSRIs
  • Benzodiazepines

Psychotherapy

People with intense pyrophobia may need to seek help from a psychotherapist. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 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.
  • 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.

Coping

Meditation or relaxation techniques may be useful in managing a phobia. Relaxation techniques could include deep breathing.

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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6 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. MedGen. Pyrophobia.

  2. Online Etymology Dictionary. Pyrophobia.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Phobias.

  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders.

  5. MedlinePlus. Phobias.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Anxiety disorders.

Additional Reading