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People with specific phobias have an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger, such as dogs or closed-in places. An estimated 6.3 million adult Americans have some type of phobia. In some cases, if it's easy to avoid the stimulus, treatment may not be necessary. In cases where the fear is seriously affecting a person's life, specific phobias are treated with carefully targeted psychotherapy.

An Example of a Specific Phobia

"I'm scared to death of flying, and I never do it anymore. I used to start dreading a plane trip a month before I was due to leave. It was an awful feeling when that airplane door closed and I felt trapped. My heart would pound, and I would sweat bullets. When the airplane would start to ascend, it just reinforced the feeling that I couldn't get out.
"When I think about flying, I picture myself losing control, freaking out, climbing the walls, but, of course, I never did that. I'm not afraid of crashing or hitting turbulence. It's just that feeling of being trapped. Whenever I've thought about changing jobs, I've had to think, 'Would I be under pressure to fly?' These days, I only go places where I can drive or take a train. My friends always point out that I couldn't get off a train traveling at high speeds either, so why don't trains bother me? I just tell them it isn't a rational fear."

What Are Specific Phobias?

A specific phobia is an intense fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Some of the more common phobias are centered around:
  • Closed-in places (claustrophobia)
  • Heights (acrophobia)
  • Escalators
  • Tunnels
  • Highway driving
  • Water
  • Flying (pterygophobia)
  • Dogs
  • Spiders
  • Injuries involving blood.
Such phobias aren't just extreme fear; they are an irrational fear of a particular thing. You may be able to ski the world's tallest mountains with ease but be unable to go above the fifth floor of an office building. While adults with phobias realize that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.
Phobias affect an estimated 6.3 million adult Americans and are twice as common in women as in men.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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