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What is a phobia? Are phobias normal?

Phobias are fears or anxieties about objects or situations that are out of proportion to the actual danger posed. The DSM-5 and our doctors break down phobias into five different types:

  • Animal Type - Dogs, bugs, reptiles, etc.
  • Natural Environment Type - Heights, bodies of water, storms, etc.
  • Blood-Injection-Injury Type - Needles, surgeries, and other invasive medical procedures.
  • Situational Type - Small spaces, airplanes, sea travel, etc.
  • Other Type - Any other object or situation not covered by the previous types. Includes fears of bacteria, costumed characters, loud noises, etc.

Phobias are normal and found in about 1 in 10 children. Despite their prevalence among kids, phobias are important to diagnose and treat because they cause frequent distress and can have long-term effects on your child’s health. For example, a child with a blood-injection-injury type phobia may avoid seeking medical care in an emergency that can be life-threatening.

Are fears and phobias the same thing?

Let’s break down the differences.

  • Fears and phobias are not synonyms. Phobias are a group of anxiety disorders that may cause fear. So a phobia is a medical condition, and fear may be one of its symptoms.
  • Phobias induce a disproportionate amount of fear or anxiety relative to the danger that the object or situation poses. A great way to understand this is through the lens of a child with a needle phobia (trypanophobia). Even though shots like vaccines are safe, beneficial to our health, and relatively painless, they can induce extreme fear or anxiety in kids with trypanophobia. It’s the difference between a needle making us uncomfortable and a needle making us so scared that we avoid them despite being safe.
  • The symptoms of phobias are persistent and tend to last six months or longer. A fear that has persisted this long may be a sign that your child has a phobia or another disorder. If you think your child has a phobia that is having a negative impact on their life, don’t hesitate to take them to a specialist for an evaluation—even if it hasn’t been six months.
  • People with phobias actively avoid the object/situation or they will endure it with intense fear. For example, flying can make many children feel anxious, but someone with aerophobia will avoid flights whenever possible and will be intensely scared or anxious on a flight.
  • The symptoms of phobias cause significant distress in a child’s day-to-day life, whereas general fears may not frequently bother us. It’s an important distinction because the consistent fear and anxiety caused by phobias affect a child’s schoolwork, recreational activities, and home life.

Can I get phobia treatments near me?

Our physicians at Golisano Children’s Hospital of SWFL treat phobias! We tailor plans to fit your child’s unique needs, but they may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a prescription of anti-anxiety medications, or a combination of treatments. Our specialists will be with your family every step of the way to help your child manage their phobia.