Phobia Of Heights (Acrophobia): Definition, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

The phobia of heights , also called acrophobia, is an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for those who suffer from it to lead a completely normal life, it can disable people even to perform such everyday actions as looking out of a balcony or looking out the window from a edifice.

The phobia of heights is a type of anxiety that commonly occurs when an uncomfortable and suffocating sensation is experienced when being at a certain height.

People who are afraid of heights generally avoid tall buildings, roller coasters, skiing or even standing on high hills or balconies, it generally affects the recreational activities one can enjoy. However, in some extreme cases, the phobia can affect daily life, for example: driving bridges can trigger panic attacks or dizziness or people who live or work in large cities may have difficulty attending meetings on the upper floors of a building or they may experience dizziness on escalators, glass elevators, railings, and stairs.

This type of fear can even occur at heights that shouldn’t be scary at all, an example of this could be if you get very scared when you have to cross a bridge, which has no life-threatening problems.

Causes of the phobia of heights

It should be noted that we all fear heights since childhood, but the degree of fear varies from one person to another, this fear is also present in animals and is adaptive, it prevents dangerous falls. As for people with a phobia of height, the reasons for their disorder can be totally different.

These are the main causes:

Acrophobia of traumatic events

In general, these events usually occur during childhood, from the most common events such as falls to large accidents in which the victim is seriously affected and this can have an impact on a phobia. This does not imply that all people who suffer some unpleasant event related to height will suffer from acrophobia.

On the other hand, there are also people who can acquire this phobia through the experience of other people even though they were not hurt. This process is called indirect learning . For example, if we see a wasp biting our older brother and we observe his panic reaction, it is very possible that we are afraid every time a similar insect approaches us.

Fear of heights from birth

Currently, the inheritance of predisposing factors to this phobia is being investigated, it is believed that in families with acrophobia, children are born observing the anguish and eventually develop this disorder.

Cognitive bias in acrophobia

Deviations in our cognitive processes also play an important role in causing such phobias , wrong processing of data about heights can increase excessive worry and stress response , leading to a phobia.

What are the symptoms of a phobia of heights?

When faced with the fear of heights, you experience different symptoms of anxiety, these symptoms may differ from time to time, but they are generally the same.

When you experience this phobia and end up in a terrifying situation, your heart will start to beat faster, your breathing will become shallower, your muscles will tense up and this is a typical physical response to fear, your body will prepare to deal with the situation of a fear. more efficient and faster way. For example, you will notice that you can run faster when you are afraid.

There are different stimuli that produce intense fear in the acrophobic, but not all fear the same situations, there are different intensities in terms of fear of heights.

Emotional symptoms

You may feel a sense of panic when you sense that you are tall, and instinctively, you may start looking for something to hold onto and discover that you cannot trust your own sense of balance. The most common reactions include immediately descending, crawling on all fours, and kneeling or otherwise lowering the body.

Physical symptoms

You may begin to shake, sweat, dizzy, lose control, experience heart palpitations and even cry or scream, feel terrified and paralyzed.

Anxiety and avoidance

If you have acrophobia, you may begin to fear situations that may cause you to spend time in high places. For example, you may worry that the next vacation will place you in a hotel room on a high floor, you may put off home repairs for fear of using a ladder, you may avoid visiting your friends’ houses if they have balconies or panoramic windows in the upper floor.

Risks of Acrophobia

There are many people who feel totally unable to clean building windows or find the idea of ​​skydiving extremely unpleasant, this does not imply that they have a problem, it is common for us to object to potentially dangerous situations but people who suffer from acrophobia frequently experience severe discomfort related to altitude.

Not all phobias are clinically relevant, for example having a disproportionate fear of tarantulas is not a major concern for a person who spends most of their time in a big city. However, heights are everywhere, there are cities full of buildings that are hell for acrophobes.

Avoidance behaviors

For acrophobes, these anxiety symptoms trigger various avoidance behaviors, fleeing or avoiding the stimuli that activate your fear and maintain the disorder.

Give up usual activities

Acrophobes often reject fun activities like enjoying the lookouts, jumping on a roller coaster, or taking a cable car.

Work problems

They may have a hard time at work if their job involves dealing with heights, for most people moving to the 10th floor is not a problem. However, for acrophobes, it can pose a serious problem, fear can be incredibly disabling, and they can go so far as to diminish their performance or even be forced to quit their job.

General decline in quality of life

In the same way, any phobia can also significantly worsen the quality of life of the person in several areas, they are very frustrating emotionally and cannot be ignored by the sufferer, in addition they have negative effects on people’s self-control. These disorders are relatively common and receive a lot of attention from psychology professionals, who are looking for ways to help people suffering from excessive anxiety.

How to treat the phobia of heights?

Acrophobia can share certain symptoms with vertigo, a medical disorder with a variety of possible causes, as well as other specific phobias. For these reasons, if you experience the signs of acrophobia, it is extremely important to seek professional help as soon as possible.

Treatments for acrophobia include:


Cognitive behavior therapy can be used to help patients change their unproductive thinking patterns . This allows them to distinguish that their intense fear is in their imagination.

Other treatment that is taken by acrophobic patients includes behavior therapy, counseling, and hypnosis .

The cognitive behavioral therapy is used to treat phobias, procedures such as exposure techniques have a long and successful tradition in research and clinical application. These methods gradually bring acrophobes closer to the object of their fears , become progressively more confident, and reduce anxiety reactions.

Symptoms don’t always go away completely, but they can carry out daily activities like riding an elevator or looking out the window without being paralyzed with fear. Psychological intervention is likely to greatly increase your well-being.


Traditionally, the most common exposure to heights is the most common solution, however several research studies have shown that virtual reality can be just as effective. A great advantage of virtual reality treatment is the savings both in cost and time, since it is not necessary to accompany the therapist “on location”.

This method is not available everywhere, but with the costs of VR equipment decreasing, it is likely to become easier to access as time goes on.


Sometimes sedatives or beta blockers can be used for short-term relief in specific situations to help ease the panic and anxiety you feel. The drug D-cycloserine has been in clinical trials for the treatment of anxiety disorder since 2008, some studies have shown that using the drug in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy can improve outcomes. However, a meta-analysis, combining multiple study results, questioned the usefulness of D-cycloserine and whether it is as useful as originally believed, citing that more research is needed.

Acrophobia and related conditions

Conditions that are related to altitude phobia and that can occur include:


True vertigo is a medical condition that causes a spinning sensation and dizziness. Acrophobia can induce similar feelings, but the three conditions are not the same, see a doctor for tests if you experience symptoms of vertigo, medical tests may include blood tests, CT scans, and MRI scans, which can rule out a variety of neurological conditions.


It is the one to the stairs and sometimes it is related to acrophobia. In Bathmophobia, you can panic when you see a ladder, even if you have no need to climb it, although most acrophobia sufferers do not experience bathmophobia.


This fear has to do with the senseless fear that a person may have when forced to go up or down the stairs and can occur in conjunction with acrophobia.


Georgia Tarrant
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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.