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What Are Phobias? 

By Eileen Bailey

Phobias are not just an intense fear; they are an irrational and unsubstantiated fear of an object or situation. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that over 19.2 million Americans suffer from some type of specific phobia.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America list some common phobias at:

  • Animals
  • Insects
  • Heights
  • Thunder
  • Driving
  • Public Transportation
  • Flying
  • Medical or Dental Procedures
  • Elevators

Children commonly have specific phobias or fears, but these are usually outgrown. Children may be afraid of the dark, afraid of strangers or afraid of thunder. They do not understand these fears are unreasonable. They only know they are afraid. They may cling to a caregiver, cry, or have tantrums. By adolescence, these fears are normally gone.

When specific fears or phobias develop during adolescence or adulthood, they do not usually go away without treatment. By this time, they can understand the fear is unreasonable, but even so they are not able to overcome it.

Often, teenagers and adults with specific phobias will avoid the situation or object that causes the fear. Although sometimes, this does not interfere with daily functioning, it can also have a tremendous impact on daily life. For example, if someone is afraid of riding in an elevator, to avoid this may greatly limit employment opportunities, where you live or receiving proper medical care, especially for people living or working in a city.

Symptoms of phobias do not just occur when the situation or object is present. Just thinking about or anticipating events or situations may cause anxiety symptoms to appear. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, when a person is exposed to the situation or object, they experience an immediate reaction or may experience a panic attack.


Symptoms of specific phobia are the same as for many anxiety disorders and can include the following:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
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