A phobia is an intense fear or feeling of anxiety that occurs only in a particular situation that frightens you.
This might be something as seemingly logical as a fear of heights, or as illogical as a fear of the colour green. At other times you don’t feel anxious. For example, if you have a phobia of spiders (as millions of people do) you only feel anxious when there’s a spider around, otherwise you feel fine.
About one in ten people has a significant phobia, although few people seek treatment.
People develop phobias to all sorts of things. Each phobia has its own name. Some (of a very long list) include:
- musophobia – fear of mice
- peladophobia – fear of bald people
- amathophobia – fear of dust
- pnigophobia – fear of choking or smothering
- maieusiophobia – fear of childbirth
- homichlophobia – fear of fog
- arachibutyrophobia – fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth
Phobias make people avoid situations they know will make them anxious, but this can actually make the phobia worse. A person’s life can becomes increasingly dominated by the precautions they take to avoid a situation they fear. You may know there’s no real danger and you may feel embarrassed by your fear, but you’re still unable to control it. It’s better to confront your fears, even if it’s in a very careful way or with the help of a trained therapist.
A phobia is more likely to go away if it has started after a distressing or traumatic event.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.