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Types of phobias

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Phobias are abnormal fear of a specific object, animal, bird, insect, activity or a certain situation. It is a type of anxiety disorder which can precipitate a panic attack.

Those with phobias tend to avoid the feared object or activity as much as possible and become anxious when they anticipate having to confront them.

This may be fears of an animal which they may well avoid in daily life for example the snake.

However, in some the fears may be of more common objects and situations like fear of flying, interacting with people (social phobias) or using a closed lift (claustrophobia). This may severely hamper a person’s day to day life.

Mild phobias are very common, particularly in childhood, although most of these fears disappear by the age of six or eight. People can also develop phobias when going through a particularly stressful period of their lives.

Research shows that approximately five per cent of adults develop agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and around one per cent of the population develop severe debility due to this phobia.

Agoraphobia usually starts when a person is in their late 20s and is more common in women than men. Around one to two per cent of men and women develop social phobia.

To be classed as a phobia, the symptoms must be due to anxiety, and not to symptoms arising from another problem, either physical or psychological. 1-5

Classification of phobias

Phobias may be grouped into two broad classes:-

  • Simple or specific phobias like those of an object, animal or situation. Specific phobias include fear of:
    • Spiders
    • Snakes
    • Dogs
    • Thunder
    • closed spaces
    • flying etc.

Simple phobias may also be a fear of blood, medical interventions such as injections, or injury. Sufferers may faint in the presence of blood or injury, following a reduction in their heart rate and blood pressure.

This is called a vasovagal response which leads to fainting. It does not normally occur with other anxiety disorders. In other phobias and panic disorders the person’s heart beat and blood pressure usually increases as their arousal rate increases.

Complex phobias – e.g. Social and agoraphobias. Social phobias are fears of interacting with people or social gatherings and agoraphobias are fears of open spaces or public places from where escape is difficult like shopping malls, public transport buildings etc.

Agoraphobia is commonly associated with depression and marital or family disharmony. Both social and agoraphobia may lead to confinement of the patient within their homes.

Common phobias

The most common phobias include fear of:

  • spiders (Arachnophobia)

  • social situations (social phobia)

  • flying (Aviatophobia)

  • open spaces (Agoraphobia)

  • confined spaces (Claustrophobia)

  • heights (Acrophobia)

  • cancer (Cancerophobia)

  • thunderstorms (fear of lightening – astraphobia; fear of thunder – Brontophobia)

  • death (Necrophobia)

  • heart disease (Cardiophobia)

Less common phobias

Other less common phobias are fears of:

  • needles/sharp objects (Aichmophobia)

  • cats (Ailurophobia)

  • people (Anthropophobia)

  • men (Androphobia)

  • sex (Genophobia)

  • women, (Gynophobia)

  • homosexuals (Homophobia)

  • water (Aquaphobia)

  • bees (Apiphobia)

  • toads (Bufonophobia)

  • dogs (Cynophobia)

  • dentists and doctors (Dentophobia and Iatrophobia respectively)

  • creepy, crawling things or reptiles (Herpetophobia)

  • sleep (Hypnophobia)

  • mice (Musophobia)

  • dirt and germs (Mysophobia)

  • anything new (Neophobia)

  • night (Noctiphobia)

  • darkness (Nyctophobia)

  • snakes (Ophidiphobia)

  • fire (Pyrophobia)

  • being buried alive (Taphophobia)

  • God (Theophobia)

  • strangers (Xenophobia)

  • animals (Zoophobia)

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 19, 2012

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