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What are phobias?

A phobia is when you have an irrational fear of something - it could be an object, animal or situation - the thing that causes the phobia can vary hugely from person to person.

It’s an anxiety disorder that can present itself at any stage in life (we’ll look at this in more detail below) and symptoms can range from mild to debilitating. If your fear is extreme and is impacting your daily life, you should speak to a doctor to get help.

Who do phobias affect?

Phobias can affect anyone, at any stage in life. Some are more likely to develop in childhood, whilst others can affect you at any age. Read more below.

The different types of phobia

There are many different types of phobias - some of the more common ones include spiders, dogs, heights or flying. These are called ‘simple phobias’ and often develop in childhood or when you’re a teenager after a traumatic event

There are less common ones that could develop too, called ‘complex phobias’ like social phobia (social anxiety order) or agoraphobia. These tend to develop when you’re an adult and can be very debilitating, making managing day-to-day life a struggle.

If you think you have a complex phobia, or need help with a simple phobia, you can speak to a doctor about it and they will be able to ensure you get the help that you need.

Phobia symptoms

Phobia symptoms can be different for everyone and can vary in how severe they are. They can be both physical and psychological.

Some of the physical symptoms can include:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in your chest
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Not feeling in touch with reality, for example, feeling like you are about to die

You can see a comprehensive list of symptoms here.

If you are finding it difficult to cope with your phobia symptoms, no matter how mild you think they may be, you should speak to a doctor about treatment options. They will help you find a way to deal with the symptoms and reduce any impact they have on your life.

Phobias diagnosis

Most phobias aren’t diagnosed, as people learn to live with them and avoid the object or situation that causes the issue. However, this should not stop you seeking help if you need it. It is important that you don’t ignore your phobia, as this can sometimes make things worse. Speak to a doctor about your phobia, particularly if it is interfering with your everyday life.

Our online doctors will ask the right questions so that they can try to find out the cause of your phobia, or they can refer you for specialist treatment. They can then make sure that you get the right treatment to help you reduce the impact that it is having on your daily life.

You can find out further information about how a doctors will diagnose a phobia.

Phobias causes

The cause of your phobia may not be obvious to you, but a doctor will be able to discuss with you the potential root of your issue.

As we mentioned, simple or specific phobias are usually most commonly linked to stressful events or situations that occurred in your childhood or teenage years. These can lead to some of the most common phobias, such as the fear of heights or of confined spaces.

Causes of these types of phobias may include:

  • A frightening event
  • Stressful situation
  • Learned behaviour (for example, living with someone that has a phobia)

There are other phobias, such as social phobia or agoraphobia, known as complex phobias, where the causes are not always fully understood. 

To find out more about the causes of phobias.

Treatment for phobias

You may have been living with a phobia for long time or, it could be a recent development. Whatever the circumstances, the first step is to see a doctor and the good news is that almost all phobias can be treated or controlled.

There are a number of options for treatment, including:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Self-help, including books, online programmes and support groups
  • Medication

A doctor will be able to determine which of these treatments will be best suited for you.

Depending on how your phobia affects you, your treatment plan may include both medication and some form of therapy for the most effective results.

Find out more about how to treat phobias.

Speak to a doctor online

At Push Doctor, our GPs are here for you 365 days a year. You can have a face-to-face video consultation on your smartphone, tablet or laptop over video consultation. We’ll do everything at your pace, there’s no judgement and no pressure.

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