Entomophobia is a specific phobia, or fear, of insects. People with this condition may experience symptoms like anxiety, nausea, and an increased heart rate when they come into contact with insects.

Phobias affect roughly 9.1% of adults in the United States. Females are twice as likely to have a phobia than males.

This article outlines what entomophobia is, its symptoms, its diagnosis, and possible treatment options. The article also answers some common questions about entomophobia.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Entomophobia is the name for a persistent and extreme fear of insects. If a person has entomophobia, even the thought of being near an insect may trigger severe mental and physical symptoms.

A specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It occurs when a person has an intense and irrational fear of something that poses little or no threat to them, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person with a phobia may be aware that their fears are irrational.

The symptoms of phobias typically begin during childhood and the average age of onset is 7 years old.

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If a person has entomophobia they will always experience immediate fear or anxiety around insects. Their fear or anxiety is often out of proportion to the actual danger posed by insects, 2022 research explains.

Common symptoms of specific phobias may include:

A person may even experience some of the above symptoms when thinking about insects. A person’s entomophobia may cause them to go to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with insects, affecting their daily life.

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Scientists believe that certain factors may increase a person’s chances of developing an anxiety disorder.

Genetics is one factor that may play a role in the development of anxiety disorders.

Similarly, if a person experiences stressful or traumatic events, they may have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. Stressful or traumatic events may include:

  • abuse
  • death of a loved one
  • violence
  • prolonged illness

There is not a lot of research into the causes of specific phobias. Some research from 2017 suggests that phobias can result from traumatic events. If a person has a stressful or traumatic experience with insects during their childhood, they may develop entomophobia.

However, not all people who experience these events in childhood do develop phobias. More research is necessary to understand what causes a person to develop a specific phobia.

The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders may be similar to other medical conditions, like heart disease or hyperthyroidism, according to NAMI. This means a doctor will need to rule out these conditions during a diagnosis.

When diagnosing an anxiety disorder, a doctor may carry out:

  • a physical examination
  • an interview
  • a number of lab tests

Mental health professionals may base the diagnosis on certain guidelines and diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 lists the following diagnostic criteria for a specific phobia:

  • A person experiences significant anxiety or fear about a specific object or situation, which almost always provokes these feelings.
  • The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual risk.
  • A person avoids the object or situation or endures it with intense fear or anxiety.
  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance provokes clinically significant distress or impairment in day-to-day functioning.
  • The anxiety, fear, or avoidance is persistent and may last for 6 months or more.
  • A medical professional cannot better explain the person’s symptoms as those of another mental disorder.

Below are some of the ways a person may treat their entomophobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that weekly sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alongside homework assignments can be effective for treating phobias.

A person typically has 12–16 sessions of CBT. During the sessions, the therapist may help a person understand the incorrect assumptions they have about insects.

The therapist may help a person identify mistaken beliefs and help them avoid immediately jumping to the worst-case scenarios. They may help a person realize that they are making these mistakes and help them understand realistic risks.

Once a person better understands their phobia, the therapist may then gradually expose them to insects in order to help them overcome the phobia.

Exposure therapy

During exposure therapy, a psychologist will create a safe environment where they will gradually expose a person to insects, the ADAA explains. This may help reduce a person’s fear and avoidance of insects.

A psychologist may use several methods of exposure therapy. Some common approaches include:

  • In vivo exposure: During this approach, a person will directly face their object of fear. This may involve holding an insect in their hand.
  • Imaginal exposure: During this approach, a person will imagine their object of fear. This may involve imagining they are holding an insect.
  • Virtual reality exposure: This approach uses virtual reality technology, which may help a person experience the sights, sounds, and smells associated with their object of fear.

A psychologist may decide to use exposure therapy in one of the following ways:

  • Graded exposure: During this approach, a person and a psychologist will create an exposure fear hierarchy. They will rank certain objects, situations, or activities in order of the level of fear they may cause. The psychologist will then begin with mild or more moderate exposures before progressing to more difficult ones.
  • Flooding: This approach uses the same fear hierarchy as graded exposure. However, in the flooding approach, the psychologist will expose the person to the most difficult tasks first.
  • Systematic desensitization: In some cases, a psychologist may combine exposure with certain relaxation exercises. This can make the challenging exposures feel more manageable. It may also help the person associate the feared objects, situations, or activities with relaxation.

Medications

If a person has an anxiety disorder such as entomophobia, they may wish to take medications to help manage their symptoms.

A person should always talk with a healthcare professional about possible benefits, side effects, and risks of different medications.

Medications to help treat anxiety disorders may include anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, according to NAMI. These medications aim to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about entomophobia.

How does someone know if they have entomophobia?

According to the DSM-5, a person has entomophobia if they:

  • have an extreme fear of insects that is out of proportion to the actual danger posed by insects
  • nearly always feel fear or anxiety when they are around insects
  • actively avoid situations where they might come into contact with insects
  • have experienced their ongoing fear of insects for 6 months or more

How common is entomophobia?

According to the NIMH, around 9.1% of adults in the United States had a specific phobia in the past year. However, experts do not know how many people experience entomophobia specifically, so further research is necessary.

How can someone overcome entomophobia?

A person may overcome entomophobia through effective treatment, which may include:

  • CBT
  • exposure therapy
  • medications

A phobia is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have an intense fear of something. Entomophobia is the name for the intense fear of insects.

If a person with entomophobia comes into contact with insects, they may experience a range of physical and mental symptoms. A person with entomophobia may also go to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with insects. This may cause a negative impact on their daily life.

A person may treat their entomophobia with CBT, exposure therapy, and medications. A healthcare professional can advise the best treatment option for each individual.