An Overview of Phobias

In this big, crazy world we live in, it’s easy to find something to fear. Whether it is insects, snakes, flying, or the dark, we are all afraid of something. At some time or another, we have all heard the phrase, “you have nothing to fear but fear itself.” While there is probably some truth to that trite statement, it is little comfort when you are it the grips of a paralyzing phobia.
According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, a phobia is “an intense, unrealistic fear, which can interfere with the ability to socialize, work, or go about everyday life.” However unrealistic the fear appears to onlookers, to the estimated 11.5 million sufferers, the threat is only too real.

While everyone is afraid of something at some point, people with phobias have exaggerated fears caused by a predictable, consistent trigger. When confronted with this trigger, their fear kicks in, often uncontrollably. For these people, the phobia can range from mildly annoying to devastatingly crippling. For many it interferes with their ability to live a normal life. The trigger can be most anything, from an insect to an impending social engagement.

Types of Phobias
There are three main categories of phobias: agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia.

People with agoraphobia fear going out in public. Contrary to popular belief, however, agoraphobics are not actually afraid of people or public places-they are afraid of panic. Agoraphobics crave safety and fear the loss of that safety. They are afraid of being unable to escape if they do suffer a panic attack.

Agoraphobics tend to avoid places or situations that will make them feel anxious, whether it is a grocery store or a crowded highway. This fear can easily spread into other phobias. Many agoraphobics do eventually become housebound, simply to avoid the possibility of an anxiety or panic attack. Others continue going out, but with severe distress.

Social Phobia
As its name implies, this is the fear of socializing. More specifically, social phobics fear being criticized or judged. They worry excessively about what others will think of them, often to the point of avoiding social situations altogether. Social phobics tend to be highly sensitive and are likely to take things personally. Their fear of humiliation is so great that it can keep them from accepting social invitations. This fear can be quite detrimental to personal relationships.

Specific Phobia
Like it sounds, this is a fear of a certain thing or situation. Unlike agoraphobia or social phobia, specific phobias are often mere annoyances and usually do not cause severe disruptions in life. Because of their limited scope, phobics can usually manage to avoid the object of their fear.

There are hundreds of specific phobias, most with complicated names. Here is an overview of some of the most common:

>This is the fear of spiders.

>Claustrophobia is the fear of being confined in a small space. Claustrophobics often find being in an elevator difficult. Sufferers typically find it difficult to breath in closed-in or crowded places and may even believe they are suffocating. Claustrophobics often need to be sedated for necessary medical tests such as MRIs.

>Acrophobia is the intense fear of heights. At its extreme, this phobia can keep people from entering tall buildings, even for work purpose

Dentophobia or Odontiatophobia
>Fear of the dentist is another common phobia. Sufferers will often endure incredible pain just to avoid a visit to the dentist.

>This is an intense fear of dogs. People with this type of phobia are often even afraid of puppies. While their rational mind tells them that the small dog is harmless, they are unable to overcome the fear.

>Hemophobia is an intense, sometimes crippling, fear of blood. Hemophobics are often afraid of all blood, whether it is their own, another person’s, or an animal’s. For a hemophobic, even a drop of blood can be frightening. In severe cases, hemophobia can prevent women from having children.

>This is an irrational fear of snakes. Sufferers will often avoid areas where snakes are likely to inhabit, such as the woods.

Pterygophobia, Aviophobia, Aviatophobia, or Pteromerhanophobia
>No matter what name you use, the fear of flying is a common phobia, one that keeps many people grounded-literally.
Causes of Phobias

There is no one definitive cause of a phobia. Some specific phobias are caused by a bad experience growing up. For example, someone who was bitten by a dog as a child could likely develop cynophobia. Someone who survived a plane crash, or who lost a loved one in a crash, could develop an intense fear of flying.

There are two basic schools of thought as to the cause of social phobia. Some believe that social phobia is caused by abnormalities in the neurotransmitter-receptors in the brain. Others believe that social phobia is caused by low self-esteem and feelings of rejection.

Treatment of Phobias
Specific phobias often require no treatment. Sufferers can usually avoid the object of their fear. In cases where avoidance is not possible, however, intervention is sometimes needed. For example, if someone with an intense fear of flying must travel by air, he could see a doctor for some anti-anxiety medication or tranquilizers.

Other methods used include hypnosis or desensitization. In desensitization, patients are exposed to the object of their fear in gradually increasing amounts. In theory, the phobia will lose its power as the sufferer is exposed to it more and more.

For social phobia, doctors will treat the fear differently depending on their belief of the cause. More and more doctors are using a combination of behavior therapy and serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft. Though no drug is specifically approved for social phobia, doctors have been using them for this purpose with varying levels of success. Other doctors believe that the best cure for social phobia is confidence. They believe in teaching social skills, often in a group setting.

Agoraphobia can be difficult to treat as sufferers often have accompanying phobias, such as claustrophobia. It is often treated with anti-anxiety medications and behavior therapy. Agoraphobia is often treated with exposure therapy. In this therapy, agoraphobics are exposed to a situation that provokes anxiety. As the patient learns to tolerate the anxiety, the length to the exposure is gradually increased. Eventually, the patient is desensitized to the anxiety.
Other, nondrug methods, include meditation and relaxation techniques.

In Conclusion
Though phobias can be quite irritating, and even debilitating, there is help. If your phobia is disrupting your life, seek help. Because of insurance regulations, it is usually necessary to see your family doctor or primary care physician first. This is a good idea anyway as this doctor can do some initial tests and lab work. If needed, he can refer you to a psychiatrist or other spec

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