Fear of Water (Hydrophobia): Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Fear of water or hydrophobia , also called aquaphobia, is a panic and irrational fear of water. When left untreated, this common phobia can have more or less disabling manifestations in daily life.


  • Like all phobias , hydrophobia is defined as intense, irrational, and uncontrollable anxiety .
  • Anxiety focuses here on the aquatic element: it can manifest itself in the sight of water, in contact with water or in its simple evocation, depending on the case.

Depending on its intensity, hydrophobia can more or less disturb everyday life:

  • In its mildest forms, fear is triggered mainly by large bodies of water (lake, sea).
  • But a person who suffers in a more severe way may be afraid of the rain, of a bathtub full of water, of splashing when passing through a fountain, etc …

In most cases, a hydrophobic person will do everything possible to avoid being in an anxious situation:

  • For example, you will systematically decline invitations to the beach or work as far from the sea as possible.

You can also read: Fear of Socializing: Origin, Characteristics, Causes, Treatments

Symptoms of hydrophobia

In addition to the incoercible anxiety caused by water, hydrophobia is often accompanied by various physical symptoms such as:

  • Sweating,
  • Pallor,
  • Heart rhythm disorders ,
  • Hyperventilation,
  • Tremors,
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness of the extremities.
  • Loss of consciousness can also be seen in the most severe cases.


  • Hydrophobia can be caused by a traumatic and distressing childhood event, such as a near drowning.
  • It is not necessary for the child to be the victim of the accident to develop this type of phobia in adulthood: it may be enough to have been a helpless witness to the scene.
  • It also happens that the exact origin of hydrophobia is difficult to clearly identify.

Treatment for fear of water

  • Classically, hydrophobia is combated with the help of psychotherapy . Indeed, a psychoanalysis can help to discover the cause of the phobia to cure it better.
  • Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapies, which are often effective against all types of phobias, allow you to gradually face the water to tame your fear.
  • Sometimes medications, such as anxiolytics or antidepressants, may also be prescribed, along with psychotherapy.
  • In addition, there are other possible approaches to combat hydrophobia, such as therapeutic hypnosis.
  • Also think about the hydrophobic (or aquaphobic) courses, especially organized by some nautical centers or municipal swimming pools.
  • Supervised by a lifeguard, they help fight your fear of water and swim better.

Additional Information

  • It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the population suffers from this phobia at some point in their life.
  • It can occur in varying degrees, from discomfort and panic to the mere thought of having to get into the water.
  • Some hydrophobics are unable to put their head under water, others cannot swim without a foot.
  • Hydrophobia is not a learned behavior.
  • The origin of this fear is often a painful experience (accident, trauma) or simply the fact of never having learned to swim.
  • It should be noted that some hydrophobic parents may unconsciously convey their fears to their children by warning them about water and its dangers too zealously.
  • If the child has little opportunity to use the pools and the seaside, he may feel uncomfortable in the water, avoid swimming, and gradually develop his own fears.
  • Hydrophobia does not cause suffering and requires medical attention or medication. It prevents swimming and often also other water activities.
  • However, this fear can be very disabling from a social and family point of view.
  • For example, parents or grandparents who, with fear in their stomach, cannot accompany their children and grandchildren to the pool or the sea, play with them in the water or guarantee their safety.

Some advices

  • Take specialized courses in swimming pools.
  • The latter are desensitization courses offered by some companies. You are gradually exposed to distressing situations and gradually learn to manage your fear.
  • First you feel comfortable in shallow water, then you learn swimming techniques, and finally you learn to control your fear in deep water.
  • The duration of the training varies according to the frequency and regularity of the sessions, the degree of hydrophobia and the motivation .
  • Of course, hydrophobic women are unlikely to become swimming champions, but their phobia goes away, even if some people remain apprehensive.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.