Phobia Overview

Phobia Overview


A persistent, irrational fear of an object, activity or situation that compels a person to avoid it, and causes distress and function impairment.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Phobias produce anxiety and often panic that is out of proportion to the actual threat of the feared object or situation. Common simple phobias are those involving animals or insects, a fear of high places, a fear of lightening, a fear of flying, or other fears. These are very common in young children, and do not represent an abnormality.

In most cases, the phobias stem from an actual confrontation with the feared object or situation. Most simple phobias do not interfere with an individual's normal functioning to the point of seeking treatment. Phobias affect 7 per cent of the population. There is usually no family history of mental illness or of the same phobia.



The goal of treatment is to help the person function effectively. The success of the treatment usually depends upon the severity of the phobia.

Systematic desensitization is a behavioral technique used to treat phobias. It is based upon having the person relax, then imagine the components of the phobia, working from the least fearful to the most fearful. Graded real life exposure has also been used with success to help people overcome their fears.

Anti-anxiety and anti-depressive medications are sometimes used to help relieve the symptoms associated with phobias. A dependency on the medication is a possible side effect of this treatment.

Phobia clinics and group therapy are available in some areas to help people deal with phobias such as a fear of flying.

Expectations (prognosis)



There is no known prevention. Treatment may be helpful in reducing attacks.

Submitted By
Christos Ballas Md.
Author is Christos Ballas, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA.

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