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By Eileen Bailey

Claustrophobia is the fear of being in a small or enclosed space. Claustrophobia is classified as a specific phobia, which is a type of anxiety disorder. A specific phobia is an irrational or unreasonable fear of an object or a situation. Specific phobias can trigger panic or anxiety attacks when the situation or fear is confronted and can interfere with daily life and overall functioning.


Claustrophobia often develops as the result of an experience in childhood or a traumatic event of being trapped in a small place or from an unpleasant or frightening experience where you were in a confined space and could not get out. Sometimes, a person will experience a panic attack during this experience. The panic and the experience become one and future situations in closed environments are looked upon with dread and fear. 


The symptoms of claustrophobia are the same as those experienced during any panic attack:

  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Chest pain

As with all panic attacks, these feeling can be accompanied by the feeling that you are going to die or that you are going crazy.

Often, people with claustrophobia will incorporate strategies into their daily lives to help them cope with or prevent panic attacks from happening:

  • People may always take stairs, avoiding elevators, even if they need to go to the 20th floor of a building.
  • At a party or in a crowded room, someone may stay close to the exit, missing any activities situated away from the room, even if it means foregoing eating or talking with friends sitting elsewhere.
  • Avoiding situations where they must be in a room with closed doors. A person with claustrophobia may always check where exits are when they enter a room.
  • Sitting in a car or other mode of transportation. They may take only short trips, not being able to sit for any period of time inside a vehicle. They may plan trips to avoid sitting in traffic or keep the windows of the car wide open, even in inclement weather.
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