specific phobia

A Discussion on Specific Phobias: Its Types, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

The term “phobia” alludes to a group of anxiety symptoms that are triggered by a certain situation or object.

Formerly known as simple phobia, a specific phobia is something that lasts for a long duration. It means an unreasonable or uncalled fear of something or a situation that, in reality, poses little to no threat at all.

Any type of exposure to that situation or object brings about an intense sensation and various symptoms of anxiety, especially nervousness and fear that forces the individual to avoid the object and situation completely.

The distress due to a phobia and the need or compulsion to totally avoid and get away from an object or situation can interfere adversely with the regular functioning of an individual. And even though most adults are fully aware that their specific phobia is entirely irrational, they have a hard time overcoming specific phobia.


Based upon the object or situation feared, there are various types of specific phobia. They include the following:

types of specific phobia

  • Situational Phobias

As the name suggests, these phobias include fear of specific situations like riding a bike or on public transportation, flying, accidentally going over a bridge or inside a tunnel, driving, being in a closed-off place, like in an elevator, etc.

  • Animal Phobias

This one is probably one of the most common types of specific phobia, and it includes the fear of animals, like dogs, insects, snakes, rodents like rats and mice, etc.

  • Natural Environmental Phobias

Some examples of this type of phobia include the fear of heights, storms, water, etc.

  • Blood-Injection-Injury Phobias

This phobia involves a fear of getting injured, seeing blood, any kind of invasive medical procedures, like blood tests, injections, etc.

  • Other Phobias

Some examples include a fear of falling from something, irrational fear of loud noises, fear of costumed characters, especially clowns, etc.


Following are some of the more common specific phobia symptoms:

  • Excessive and irrational fear of a particular object or a specific situation.
  • Avoiding the object or situation or tolerating them with extreme distress.
  • Various physical symptoms of anxiety, like panic attacks, a pounding heart, diarrhoea, nausea, trembling or shaking, a tingling sensation or numbness, shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, feeling as if you are choking, are also specific phobia symptoms.
  • Anticipatory anxiety, which means becoming worried about a situation ahead of time or feeling anxious about coming into contact with the object that triggers your phobia. An excellent example of this would be that of a person who is afraid of dogs and is anxious about going for a walk as they might see a dog on their way.

Symptoms of specific phobia in children are expressed by crying, clinging to a parent or both the parents, or throwing a lengthy tantrum.


There are no exact causes that have yet been identified. However, most of the cases appear to be closely connected to experiencing a traumatic event or a learned reaction.

For example, a person who had a horrific or frightening experience with an animal might develop such a phobia. Even witnessing an event in which someone other experiences an injury or faces or experiences harm can also cause a specific phobia.

Phobias can also be acquired or learned from others. Like, if a child sees his/ her parent/s react with extreme fear to a particular object or situation, then that child might develop a fear of the same.


Suppose your doctor finds that the symptoms are present. In that case, he/she will begin an evaluation which will include a medical and psychiatric history and might even perform a physical exam.

And even though there are no lab tests that can diagnose such a phobia, it is helpful to the doctors as they can be sure that there are no physical illnesses that are acting as the cause.

If you have no illnesses, you will be referred to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, someone with the requisite training and experience in diagnosing mental conditions. These mental health experts use clinical interviews and assessment tools for evaluating a person for a specific phobia.

The diagnosis is based on reported symptoms, and a specific phobia is diagnosed if the fear and anxiety become too much to handle and interferes with the daily life of the sufferer.


Specific phobia treatment includes either one or a combination of the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Psychotherapy is considered by mental health experts around the globe to be the main specific phobia treatment. This form of therapy involves a type of CBT, known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. In this treatment, the patient is exposed to the thing that frightens them until the fear fades away.

  • Relaxation Techniques

These include different types of deep breathing techniques, which help in reducing anxiety symptoms that constitute phobias.

  • Medication

In the case of situational phobias that produce feelings of an intense but temporary anxiety, like a fear of flying, short-acting sedative-hypnotics such as alprazolam or lorazepam is prescribed on an as-needed basis. This helps in reducing anticipatory anxiety.

It is only when a phobia is accompanied by other mental health disorders that long-term medication is used.

Sometimes, serotonergic antidepressants such as Escitalopram oxalate, fluoxetine, and paroxetine might be effective for some sufferers. In recent times, certain blood pressure drugs known as beta-blockers are used to treat anxiety that is related to phobia.


In a majority of cases, a specific phobia can be successfully treated with medication and psychotherapy or a combination of both.

However, there are many specific phobias that cannot be prevented. However, with early intervention and appropriate treatment, immediately after a person goes through a traumatic event. This can prevent the development of severe anxiety-related disorders.

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