What is social anxiety disorder (SAD)?
Social anxiety disorder is an extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations. People with SAD realize their fear is unreasonable but feel powerless to stop it. They become so afraid that they will embarrass or humiliate themselves in public, many avoid social situations, causing them to feel isolated and alone.
Symptoms of SAD are similar to those felt by individuals with other anxiety disorders: blushing, sweating, shaking, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, feelings of detachment.
SAD affects people in different ways. Some may be afraid of speaking in public, others may have a fear of talking to a salesperson, initiating a conversation, participating in discussions or ordering in a restaurant. Yet others may have a hard time eating in public. If you have SAD, you may be afraid in some of these situations but be fine in others.
Is it serious?
SAD can be serious. It can interfere with a person’s ability to function in daily life. It can stop them from becoming involved in relationships, romantic or friendship. Some may avoid eating at a restaurant or using a public restroom, causing them to miss out on joining family members and friends. For some, it prevents them from working. Many people with SAD feel isolated and alone.
How common is SAD?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 15 million adults in the United States have social anxiety disorder. The Drexel University Department of Psychology reports that 13 percent of all Americans will have significant symptoms of SAD sometime in their life. However, many people don’t seek help - with 36 percent of those diagnosed with SAD reporting they had symptoms for at least 10 years before seeking help. Others go through life without ever seeking help.
Is SAD the same as extreme shyness?
No, shyness and social anxiety disorder are not the same. A study sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) looked at this question and found that shyness and social anxiety disorders were separate and distinct. According to the study, only 12 percent of teens who stated they were shy actually met the diagnostic criteria for SAD. About 5 percent of the teens who answered "no" to being shy did meet the criteria for SAD. NIMH states, "social phobia and shyness are not necessarily directly related. Rather he presence of social phobia may be independent of shyness in some instances." 
Can children have symptoms of SAD?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists the typical age of onset as 13 years old. Even though it isn’t usually diagnosed until the teen years, many people with SAD do report feelings of extreme shyness throughout their lives, even as a young child.
What treatments are available?
There are two main treatments for SAD, much like other types of anxiety disorders.
One treatment is medication. Certain medications have been found to greatly minimize symptoms of SAD. While medication often helps in the short-term, it is not a cure and the benefits last only as long as you take the medication. These medications also have side-effects.
Another type of treatment is therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of treatment takes a lot more work on the part of the patient, however, changes and improvements made during therapy are often long-lasting or permanent.
 "National Survey Dispels Notion that Social Phobia is the Same as Shyness," 2011, Ooct, Staff Writer, National Institute of Mental Health
"Social Anxiety DIsorder," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Anxiety and Depression Association of America
"Social Anxiety Disorder FAQ," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Drexel University, Department of Psychology
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.