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Specific Phobia

Formerly called Simple Phobia, patients with Specific Phobias exhibit all the symptoms of an anxiety Disorder; the class in which these phobias are diagnosed. Patients with a Specific Phobia have an intense and overwhelming fear of a location, thing or person or animal, and they persist in this fear in of the fact that the object poses no real threat to their well-being. Some of the most common specific phobias are fear of tight spaces or closed-in places, fear of heights, escalators, tunnels, highway driving, elevators, water, flying, dogs or other animals, snakes, birds, spiders, bees, and blood or needles. Specific Phobias are not just normal fear. They involve irrational and paralyzing fear that causes physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and avoidance. Patients realize that these fears are irrational, but the very idea of facing the thing that they fear can often bring about a panic attack or severe anxiety, with rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. If the thing the patient fears is easy to avoid - for example a person who does not have to fly often, may not have difficulty avoiding air travel – and therefore may not seek treatment. When a patient makes an important career or personal decision based on his/her phobia, or if a phobic fear is carried to extremes, it can be debilitating to social, work and family life. Most phobias persist for years, sometimes even for decades, and few without treatment. Fortunately, most Specific Phobias respond very well to treatment. Phobias typically do not result from one exposure, like a dog bite or near drowning. Rather, there is often evidence of phobia in other family members, and of social or vicariously acquired phobias that occur through conditioning, and behavior modeling, e.g. your mother’s extreme fear of bees and her irrational and fearful behavior around bees may cause you to become phobic about bees.

What are the symptoms?

Some symptoms of Specific Phobias may vary. The following is a summary of symptoms:

  • Persistent and unreasonable fear of an object or situation
  • Adult patients recognize that fear is unreasonable but cannot control their feelings
  • Fear and anticipation interferes with normal routine at work, social and family events
  • Exposure to stimulus provokes immediate anxiety and/or panic attic
  • Avoidance of object or situation causing anxiety
  • Duration of symptoms is at least 6 months in length

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Before diagnosing Specific Phobia, doctors will perform a thorough physical and mental evaluation and rule out other disease or disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Separation Anxiety Disorder. Social Phobia or Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia. Diagnosis is based on the persistent occurrence of the symptoms detailed above.

  • Patient experiences strong anxiety and fear when exposed to stimuli
  • Patient realizes fear is unreasonable
  • No other disorder is diagnosed to explain phobic reaction
  • Patient avoids stimuli
  • Condition has persisted for at least 6 months

Treatment(s) can include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (successful in 75% of patients)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Medications as appropriate: antidepressants, anti-anxiety, benzodiazepines

Index of Articles


It is estimated that 6.3 million American adults suffer from a Specific Phobia (8%). This disorder is twice as common in women as it is in men.

The age of onset seems to depend on the specific phobia the patient suffers: The mean age of animal phobia is 7 years, blood 9 yrs, dental phobia 12 yrs, claustrophobia 20 yrs.

75% of patients with Specific Phobias overcome their symptoms with cognitive-behavioral therapy.

On average, specific phobia has a 6-month prevalence between 4.5 and 11.8%.

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