Phobias

A phobia is a lasting and unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation. The fear of confronting that object or situation leads to intense anxiety, stress and nervousness, although it poses no real threat or danger to you in any way. You may even recognize that your fear is irrational but that does not help you to overcome it. 

There are several types of phobias. They may involve an object or an animal. There is also a kind of phobia known as situational phobia, which is the fear of being in a specific situation such as flying (Aviophobia), being in closed spaces (Claustrophobia), or driving in a car (Amaxophobia). Some examples of natural environment phobias include fear of rain (Ombrophobia), heights (Batophobia) or thunder (Tonitrophobia). 

There are several other types of phobias, which could involve anything from fear of blood (Haemophobia), music (Melophobia), darkness (Nyctophobia) etc. 

The exact causes of phobias are unknown but they are sometimes known to be inherited from one or both parents. ​​

Symptoms of specific phobias vary, but they are all commonly characterized by:

  • Uncontrollable panic, terror or dread when you are exposed to the source

  • Doing everything possible to avoid what you fear

  • Being unable to function normally when you are confronted with the object of fear or likely to be confronted with it​

  • Sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of panic and intense anxiety

  • Knowing that your fears are unreasonable but being unable to control them

Children, especially, do not know how to process and handle their fears which may lead to episodes crying and throwing tantrums.​

If you have an unreasonable fear of a situation or object that may seem ordinary and mundane to other people, and are constantly feeling worried and anxious about confronting such a situation, seek help from your doctor working with the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

For a preliminary examination, you can consult doctors from the Family Health Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.​

There are no specific tests to diagnose a particular phobia. Instead, your doctor will diagnose you based on a detailed interview to discuss your symptoms, medical, psychiatric and social history. To be diagnosed with a phobia, you must meet certain criteria specified by your doctor such as: 

  • Extreme distress when confronted with the feared object or situation

  • Maximum possible effort made to avoid being in that situation

  • Your life, work and social activities being affected by the fear

  • Significant and repeated occurrence of the fear, lasting for at least six months or more

  • Fear that is out of proportion with the actual danger of the situation

  • Knowledge that your fear is irrational but being unable to control it​

Phobias are usually treated with a combination of drugs and psychotherapy. Sometimes you may be prescribed anti-anxiety medications as well as anti-depressants, and sometimes even heart medications (such as beta blockers) that are used to control irregular heartbeats. Some of these medications may also cause side effects such as headache, nausea, or disturbed sleeping patterns. You need to discuss your symptoms and side effects with your doctor to find the right dosage for your particular case. 

Psychotherapy or psychological counselling is another important method to treat phobias. Cognitive behavioural therapy is particularly useful and focuses on helping you identify your source of fear and helps you to replace those thoughts with more realistic, positive ways of thinking. It is often scary to have feelings of panic in these situations. These are not dangerous but can be disturbing and disrupt your everyday activities. It is important to be honest with your psychologist about your symptoms and medication so that he/she can help you with formulating the best course of action for your treatment.

Another kind of therapy known as desensitization or exposure therapy is based on helping you to change your response to the object or situation that you fear. Your doctor will gradually and repeatedly expose you to the cause of your phobia and help you learn to conquer your anxiety.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​


​​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.