Fear of heights, known as acrophobia, is one of the most common types of phobias. Although people commonly become jittery or nervous when in a high place, some people will have irrational and persistent fear, causing them to avoid situations where they will be exposed to any high places.
Being afraid when in a situation that requires looking down from a high place. This is normal and is a protective measure. Heights, in some cases, can be dangerous and this fear can help to keep people safe. For some, however, they experience an intense fear, even in safe situations. For example, being outside, without any protection, on a cliff, being afraid can help you to remain safe and cautious. Being inside a skyscraper, looking out a window is a safe environment and should not bring about an intense fear. Most people experiencing these symptoms know their fear is irrational. Even so, they are not able to stop feeling afraid.
For some, this may mean avoiding the escalator or elevator in a shopping mall or an office building. It may mean they cannot climb a ladder or walk across a bridge. While these are common daily occurrences, for people with a fear of heights, they can be terrifying experiences.
People with phobias can have physical reactions to either being placed in a situation or even just thinking about or anticipating having to be in the situation. Physical reactions can include:
- Rapid heart rate
Feeling faint, weak or trembling
Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
Increase in body temperature
Treatment for acrophobia is normally a behavioral program that slowly exposes the person to high situations, desensitizing them over a period of time and slowly introducing greater heights. Relaxation techniques are taught and used while being exposed.
Exposure therapy can be completed by having someone actually go to the places causing anxiety, starting with the easiest to overcome and continuing to harder (and higher) places. Another way to utilize exposure therapy is virtually. A video on healthcentral.com explains how virtual exposure therapy has helped in the treatment of fear of heights.