Coping With Zuigerphobia, the Fear of Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum cleaner in an empty room
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Zuigerphobia, or the fear of vacuum cleaners, is a specific phobia. A specific phobia is an irrational, yet excessive fear of a particular object. This type of phobia creates an immediate anxiety response, often causing the person to avoid the object whenever possible.

Specific phobias such as zuigerphobia are one of three different kinds of phobias. The other two kinds are social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia, which is the fear of being unable to escape to a safe place if you have panic-like symptoms.

Who Has Zuigerphobia?

Studies estimate that 15.6% of people will develop a specific phobia at some point in their lifetime, making it one of the most common anxiety-mood disorders. Specific phobias often begin in childhood, making young children most likely to have zuigerphobia.

A fear of vacuums may be even more prevalent in children with autism, as more than half of kids who have been diagnosed with this condition are afraid of mechanical things. However, it can also occur in older teens and adults.

Pets can have zuigerphobia, too. You've probably seen a dog or cat "freak out" when someone turns on a vacuum. Some even start to react as you walk toward the closet where the vacuum is stored. These phobic reactions are similar to reactions in humans.

Fear of Loud Noises

Zuigerphobia is often linked to ligyrophobia, sometimes known as phonophobia, which is the fear of loud noises. Loud noises cause a startle response in virtually everyone but, over time, we generally learn to manage this response.

Small children and pets, however, may not have the coping skills needed to successfully manage their startle reactions. They can only react instinctively to the startling noise and immediate danger they perceive.

This is a common issue for pets, as 49% show fear when exposed to loud noises, which also include fireworks and gunshots. Thankfully, young kids typically outgrow their fears as their brain's cognitive ability increases.

Is it a Fear, a Phobia, or Another Health Condition?

You may be wondering whether your child has a phobia of vacuum cleaners or if their response is merely a fear. You can attempt to answer this question yourself by consulting the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic criteria.

The criteria say that, in children, fear may be expressed by tears, tantrums, freezing up, and clinging. For a phobia to be diagnosed, though, it must cause significant distress or impairment in functioning.

Symptoms that present as a specific phobia of vacuum cleaners can also be symptoms of other sound-related mental and physical issues. Therefore, it's important to seek the help of a medical professional to make an accurate diagnosis. Conditions with symptoms similar to zuigerphobia include:

  • Hyperacusis is when sounds are perceived as excessively loud, sometimes to the point of being painful. Roughly 30% to 40% of people with tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ears) also have hyperacusis.
  • Phonophobia is the fear of loud sounds. The term is often incorrectly used as a synonym for hyperacusis.
  • Misophonia is a strong dislike of some sounds, such as chewing and lip smacking, and has been connected with pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Recruitment is perceiving a sound to be uncomfortably louder than it actually is, and is generally asymptom of certain types of hearing loss.

Managing Zuigerphobia in Children

If a medical professional determines that your child has zuigerphobia, a personalized treatment plan can be devised to best suit your child's needs. One of the most successful treatments for specific phobia in children is desensitization.

Desensitization is a method based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. During the desensitization process, you incrementally expose your child to the vacuum. This could include:

  • Step 1: Letting them play with it while it is unplugged
  • Step 2: Making up stories that turn the vacuum into a fun character
  • Step 3: Letting your child know that you plan to vacuum and allowing them to make the choice of staying in the room or retreating to another location

Treating Vacuum Cleaner Fears in Adults

A fear of vacuum cleaners is relatively rare in older children and adults. However, if you or an older child suffers from this fear, it's best to seek advice from a trained mental health professional. The goal of specific phobia treatment is to help a person learn relaxation techniques to use when faced with their fears.

Like any phobia, a fear of vacuum cleaners is relatively easy to treat, but an untreated fear may gradually get worse. Speaking with a therapist is a good first step.

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