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Phobias: Symptoms

All phobias can limit your daily activities. They may cause severe anxiety and depression. Complex phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia, are more likely to cause these.

You may often avoid coming into contact with the thing that causes you fear and anxiety. For example, if you have a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) you may not want to touch a spider, or even look at a picture of one.

Sometimes a person can develop a phobia where they fear experiencing anxiety itself.

You don't have to be in the situation you fear to experience the symptoms of panic. The brain is able to create a reaction to fearsome situations, even when you aren't actually in the situation.

Physical symptoms

People with phobias often have panic attacks. Panic attacks can be very frightening and distressing. The symptoms are often sudden and occur without warning.

As well as feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can cause physical symptoms, such as:

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • hot flushes or chills
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • a choking sensation
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • nausea
  • headaches and dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • numbness or pins and needles
  • dry mouth
  • a need to go to the toilet
  • ringing in your ears
  • confusion or disorientation

Psychological symptoms

In severe cases, you may also experience psychological symptoms, such as:

  • fear of losing control
  • fear of fainting
  • feelings of dread
  • fear of dying

Complex phobias

Complex phobias can have a negative effect on your everyday life and wellbeing. Agoraphobia and social phobia are complex phobias.

Agoraphobia often involves a combination of several interlinked phobias. You may have a fear of going outside or leaving your home. You may also have a fear of being left alone (monophobia). Or of places where you feel trapped (claustrophobia).

The symptoms experienced by people with agoraphobia can vary in severity. For example, some people can feel very apprehensive and anxious if they have to leave their home to go to the shops. Others may feel okay about travelling short distances from their home.

If you have a social phobia, the thought of being seen in public or at social events can make you feel:

  • frightened
  • anxious
  • vulnerable

Avoiding meeting people in social situations is a sign of social phobia. In extreme cases of social phobia, as with agoraphobia, some people are too afraid to leave their home.

Several treatment options for phobias are available, including talking therapies and self-help techniques. It can often take some time to overcome a complex phobia.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2018
Next review due: 02/10/2021

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