A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes a person to experience overwhelming or debilitating fear of a situation or thing that typically does not pose any real danger.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in the United States alone, around 12.5% of adults experience a phobia of a specific situation or object at some point in their lives.
This article describes what a phobia is and outlines the different categories of phobia. It also lists some of the most common and least common phobias, as well as some ways a person can treat a phobia.
A phobia is an overwhelming or debilitating fear, usually of something that poses no real danger at all. If it does pose some danger, the person’s response is usually out of proportion to the actual danger it poses.
People who have a phobia are generally aware that their fear is irrational. They will nonetheless experience severe anxiety upon exposure to their phobia.
Having a phobia does not just mean that someone is scared of something. People with phobias have an exaggerated fear response. In severe cases, people may rearrange their lives to avoid the situation or thing that is causing their anxiety.
There are three broad phobia categories: specific phobias, social phobias, and agoraphobia.
The sections below will look at these in more detail.
Specific, or “simple,” phobias are those that relate to a particular object or situation.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) classifies specific phobias according to the following categories:
- Animal type: Examples include dogs, snakes, and spiders.
- Natural environment type: Examples include storms, water, and heights.
- Blood, injection, and injury (BII) type: Examples include needles, invasive medical procedures, and blood.
- Situational type: Examples include a fear of flying and a fear of enclosed spaces.
- Other type: This type is characterized by any phobia that does not fit into the above categories.
People often develop specific phobias when they are younger. They may find that the phobia becomes less severe with age, but this is not always the case.
A social phobia is an extreme fear of being in social situations that may cause embarrassment or humiliation.
One example of a social phobia is a fear of public speaking.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in public spaces or crowded areas without an easy means of escape. In severe cases, people with agoraphobia become housebound because they are afraid to leave their safe space.
Social phobias and agoraphobia are more likely to cause life impairment because the situation or thing that causes the phobia is a lot more difficult to avoid.
Phobias are a common type of anxiety disorder. They can affect any person, regardless of their age or sex.
Below is a list of some of the most common phobias.
|Phobia||Prevalence and facts|
|Acrophobia (fear of heights)||Another name for acrophobia is “visual height intolerance.”|
According to the DSM-5, 6.4% of adults will experience acrophobia at some point in their lives. The authors add that women are slightly more likely to experience this type of phobia than men.
|Aerophobia (fear of flying)||Another name for aerophobia is “pteromerhanophobia.”|
Aerophobia is among the most common phobias.
A 2019 study of flight anxiety in Norwegian adults found that aerophobia is more common among women than men. The study also pointed to several sources of severe flight anxiety, including odd sounds, turbulence, and a fear of terror attacks.
|Agoraphobia (fear of public spaces or crowds)||Agoraphobia often causes avoidance behaviors that significantly impact a person’s life. People with agoraphobia may avoid a variety of social situations. |
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 1.3% of adults in the U.S. experience agoraphobia at some point in their lives.
|Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)||A 2010 study reports that spiders are among the most common sources of phobias in the world.|
|BII phobias||BII phobias include Aichmophobia and hemophobia.|
Aichmophobia is a fear of needles or sharp-pointed objects. Hemophobia is a fear of blood.
BII phobias are very common, affecting around 3–4% of the general population.
People with BII phobias may avoid certain medical appointments and procedures. This can significantly affect their health.
|Claustrophobia (fear of tight or crowded spaces)||According to a 2020 article, between 7.7% and 12.5% of people will experience claustrophobia at some point in their lives.|
Several situations may cause anxiety for people with claustrophobia. For example, elevators and MRI machines pose a problem for people who are fearful of tight spaces.
|Dentophobia (fear of dentists)||Extreme dental anxiety affects around 10% of people in the United Kingdom. Dentophobia is a common phobia in Western countries and seems to affect men and women equally. |
A 2014 study found that people avoid the dentist for a variety of reasons. These include previous traumatic experiences at the dentist and learned fear through other people.
People who avoid dental appointments due to dentophobia may experience poor oral health. This can have a direct impact on a person’s overall health and quality of life.
|Driving phobia (fear of driving a car)||As with other phobias, driving phobia exists on a spectrum. Some people are reluctant to drive, while others avoid driving altogether. |
A 2017 study found that around 6% of adults aged 55–70 years experience moderate-to-severe driving anxiety.
The study linked driving anxiety to poorer mental and physical health and a lower quality of life.
|Entomophobia (fear of insects) ||Entomophobia is also known as “insectophobia.”|
A 2018 study investigated the prevalence of entomophobia and arachnophobia in school-aged Iranian children. Of the 260 children who took part in the study, 4.5% had a severe phobia of insects and arachnids, 33.3% had a moderate phobia, and 62.2% had a mild phobia.
The study also found that increasing knowledge of insects helped reduce entomophobia.
|Glossophobia (fear of public speaking)||Glossophobia falls under the category of social phobias.|
People with glossophobia avoid public speaking for fear of judgment, embarrassment, or humiliation.
|Hypochondria (fear of illness)||Hypochondria involves excessive worrying about medical conditions. |
Other names for hypochondria include “somatic symptom disorder” and “health anxiety.”
|Mysophobia (fear of dirt and germs)||Mysophobia, or “germaphobia,” is a fear of microorganisms such as bacteria, parasites, or viruses. This type of phobia often occurs alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder.|
|Sociophobia (fear of social judgment)||Sociophobia is a common type of anxiety disorder. It affects more than 1 in 8 people at some point in their lives.|
Social fears vary widely, from fear of speaking in public to fear of using public restrooms.
|Zoophobia (fear of animals)||A person who experiences a fear of animals will usually fear a specific type of animal, such as dogs, reptiles, or birds. Such fears usually start at an early age. |
A 2019 study investigated the prevalence of zoophobia in school-aged children in India. Of the 2,743 students who took part in the study, 20.6% of males and 32.8% of females reported having zoophobia.
A person may develop a phobia of any type of situation or thing. Because of this, there are hundreds of different phobias that people may experience.
Below are some examples of less common phobias.
It is important to note that health experts may disagree on the definitions of certain phobias, and some phobias have several names.
- Achluophobia or nyctophobia: This refers to a fear of darkness.
- Androphobia: This refers to a fear of men.
- Anginophobia: This refers to a fear of choking.
- Arithmophobia: This refers to a fear of numbers.
- Autophobia: This refers to a fear of being alone.
- Bacteriophobia: This refers to a fear of bacteria.
- Bathmophobia: This refers to a fear of steep slopes or stairs.
- Coulrophobia: This refers to a fear of clowns.
- Cyberphobia: This refers to a fear of computers.
- Emetophobia: This refers to a fear of vomiting.
- Escalophobia: This refers to a fear of escalators.
- Gynophobia: This refers to a fear of women.
- Hydrophobia, or aquaphobia: This refers to a fear of water.
- Iatrophobia: This refers to a fear of doctors.
- Lockiophobia: This refers to a fear of childbirth.
- Necrophobia: This refers to a fear of death or dead things.
- Nosocomephobia: This refers to a fear of hospitals.
- Obesophobia: This refers to a fear of gaining weight.
- Pogonophobia: This refers to a fear of beards.
- Pyrophobia: This refers to a fear of fire.
- Somniphobia: This refers to a fear of sleep.
Most phobias are treatable, and many are curable.
In some cases, avoiding the source of a phobia is relatively easy.
However, treatment may be necessary for people who cannot easily avoid the source of their phobia. The sections below discuss some possible treatment options in these cases.
Self-help techniques may combine different types of therapy, such as:
- Relaxation techniques: These include breathing exercises that help a person relax during times of heightened stress or anxiety.
- Visualization techniques: These are exercises that allow a person to mentally visualize how they will successfully cope with a situation that could trigger anxiety.
- Self-help groups: Meeting other people with phobias and sharing coping strategies for dealing with phobias and anxiety can help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT aims to help people identify irrational thinking patterns and behaviors that maintain or exacerbate their phobia. A CBT therapist will then teach a person some strategies for dealing with the phobia in a more rational and adaptive way.
These strategies can ultimately reduce feelings of fear around the source of the phobia.
CBT typically involves exposure therapy.
For example, if a person has a fear of spiders, their exposure therapist may recommend that they read a book about spiders. Once the person is comfortable doing this, their therapist may suggest that they hold a picture of a spider.
The therapist may then arrange for a person to view some spiders at a zoo. The final stage of the exposure therapy may involve holding a spider.
Since talking therapies are usually effective at treating phobias, medications are rarely necessary.
A person should see a doctor if they have a phobia that is interfering with their everyday activities.
Sometimes, however, a person’s phobia may limit their ability to seek treatment. For example, a person who has severe agoraphobia may fear leaving the house to seek treatment. Likewise, a person who has a fear of healthcare providers or medical procedures may avoid visiting their doctor.
In some cases, a person may feel more comfortable talking to a healthcare provider over the phone. The ADAA have a helpful search tool that allows people to find a psychotherapist in their area.
Some providers also offer counseling services via email or video.
A phobia is an overwhelming or debilitating fear of a particular situation or thing that likely does not pose any real danger.
The sources of some phobias are more difficult to avoid than others. A person should seek professional help if their phobia causes constant anxiety or interferes with their daily life.
Phobias tend to be highly treatable. CBT and exposure therapy are particularly effective treatments for phobias. A person can see a doctor or psychotherapist for advice on how to access these treatments.