Specific Phobias: Definition, Types, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment.

The phobias specific are overwhelming and unreasonable to objects or situations fear that pose little real danger but cause anxiety and avoidance, unlike the brief anxiety you may feel giving a speech or take a test, specific phobias last long, They provoke intense physical and psychological reactions, in addition to which they can affect your ability to function normally at work, at school or in social settings.

They are among the most common anxiety disorders , and not all phobias need treatment, but if a specific phobia affects your daily life, there are several therapies available that can help you overcome your fears , often permanently.

What are specific phobias?

The term phobia refers to a group of anxiety symptoms caused by certain objects or situations.

A specific phobia, previously called a simple phobia, is a long-lasting and unreasonable fear caused by the presence or thought of a specific object or situation that generally poses little or no real danger. Exposure to the object or situation causes an immediate reaction, causing the person to experience intense anxiety (nervousness) or to avoid the object or situation entirely. The distress associated with the phobia and / or the need to avoid the object or situation can significantly interfere with the person’s ability to function, adults with a specific phobia recognize that the fear is excessive or irrational, but cannot overcome it.

Everyone experiences fear from time to time, anxiety is a universal feeling that we all go through at some point in our lives, these irrational fears can interfere with personal relationships, work, school and prevent you from enjoying life.

According to the DSM-5, prevalence rates are approximately 5% in children, 16% in people 13 to 17 years old, and around 3% and 5% in older people. Women are affected more often than men.

Specific types of phobias

There are different types of specific phobias, based on the feared object or situation, including:

Animal phobias

Examples include fear of dogs , snakes, insects, or mice. Animal phobias are the most common specific ones.

Situational phobias

They involve a fear of specific situations, such as flying, traveling by car or public transport, driving, crossing bridges or tunnels, or being in an enclosed space, such as an elevator.

Phobias in the natural environment

Examples include fear of storms, heights, or water.

Injection phobias and / or blood

They involve fear of injury, of seeing blood, or of invasive medical procedures, such as blood tests or injections.

Other phobias

They include fear of falling, fear of loud sounds, and fear of costumed characters, such as clowns.

You may have more than one specific type of phobia. Other specific phobias, such as fear of public speaking , are more related to social phobia , which is a condition where people are overly concerned about how they see others.

Symptoms of specific phobias

People with this type of phobia are very distressed by being afraid, and will often do their best to avoid the object or situation in question. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the annual community prevalence estimate for specific phobias is approximately 7% to 9%.

  • Excessive or irrational fear of a specific object or situation
  • Avoiding the object or situation or enduring it in great distress
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attack, such as pounding of the heart, nausea or diarrhea, sweating, shaking, numbness or tingling, trouble breathing, dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling of suffocation.
  • Anticipatory anxiety, involves getting nervous before time to be in certain situations or to come into contact with the object of your phobia, for example, a person with a fear of dogs may feel anxious to go for a walk because he can see a dog in the path.

Children with a specific phobia may express their anxiety by crying, holding on to their parent, or throwing a tantrum.

Causes of specific phobias

The exact cause of specific phobias is unknown, but most seem to be associated with a traumatic experience or a learned reaction. For example, a person who has a terrifying or threatening experience with an animal, such as being attacked or being bitten by an animal, may develop a specific phobia, witnessing a traumatic event in which others suffer extreme harm or fear can also cause a specific phobia, as well as receiving repeated information or warnings about potentially dangerous situations or animals.

Fear can also be learned from others, a child whose parents react with fear and anxiety to certain objects or situations is likely to also respond to those objects with the same fear.

Despite its unknown causes, it can be determined that some of them are:

  • Negative experiences. Many phobias develop as a result of having a negative experience or a panic attack related to a specific object or situation.
  • Genetics and environment. There may be a link between your own specific phobia and your parent’s phobia or anxiety, this could be due to genetics or learned behavior.
  • Brain function. Changes in brain function can also play a role in the development of specific phobias.

Complications of specific phobias

Although specific phobias may seem silly to others, they can be devastating to the people who have them, causing problems that affect many aspects of life.

  • Social isolation. Avoiding places and things that you fear can cause academic, career, and relationship problems. Children with these disorders are at risk for academic problems and loneliness, and they may have problems with social skills if their behaviors differ significantly from their peers.
  • Mood disorders. Many people with specific phobias have depression and other anxiety disorders.
  • Substance abuse. The stress of living with a severe specific phobia can lead to drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Suicide . Some people with specific phobias may be at risk for suicide.

How are specific phobias diagnosed?

If there are symptoms of a specific phobia, the doctor will begin an evaluation using a medical and psychiatric history and may perform a brief physical examination, although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose specific phobias, the doctor may use various tests to ensure that a physical illness is not the cause of the symptoms.

If no physical illness is found, you may be referred to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illness. Psychiatrists and psychologists use clinical interviews and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a specific phobia.

The doctor bases his diagnosis of specific phobias on the reported symptoms, including any problems with functioning caused by the symptoms, a specific phobia is diagnosed if the person’s fear and anxiety are particularly distressing or if they interfere with their daily routine, including school, work, social activities and relationships.

Treatment options for specific phobias

Like all anxiety disorders, specific phobias can be treated with the help of a mental health professional, treatment options can involve a therapeutic technique, medications, or a combination of both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

The American Psychological Association defines cognitive behavioral therapy as “a treatment system that focuses on thought and its influence on both behavior and feelings.” Emphasizes the role of dysfunctional beliefs and their influence on emotional and behavioral outcomes. Therapy focuses on changing such negative thoughts and dysfunctional beliefs to change the reaction to the phobic stimulus, this is the first step, but the treatment of a specific phobia also involves gradual exposure to the fear stimulus.


Anti-anxiety medications can also be effective in calming emotional and physical reactions to specific phobias. For situational phobias that produce intense and temporary anxiety (for example, fear of flying ), short-acting sedative hypnotics (benzodiazepines) such as Ativan or Xanax may be prescribed occasionally, as needed, to help reduce anticipatory anxiety, unless If a phobia is accompanied by other conditions, such as depression or panic disorder , long-term or daily medications are generally not used.

Occasionally, serotonergic antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, or Lexapromay have potential value for some patients. More recently, common blood pressure medications called beta-blockers have been used to treat anxiety related to specific phobias.

Relaxation techniques

Like deep breathing, they can also help reduce anxiety symptoms.

If you believe that you or someone you care about may be suffering from a specific phobia or any other medical condition, it is strongly recommended that you seek the help of a mental health professional for proper diagnosis and support. For those in crisis, we have compiled a list of resources (some even offer free or low-cost assistance) where you can find additional information.


If you have a specific phobia, consider getting psychological help, especially if you have children, although genetics likely play a role in the development of specific phobias, repeatedly seeing someone else’s phobic reaction can trigger a specific phobia in children.

By dealing with your own fears, you will teach your child excellent endurance skills and encourage him to take courageous action like you did.

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.