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What is Claustrophobia?

written by: Charlotte Raynor • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/23/2011

Claustrophobia is a social anxiety disorder where someone has an excessive, relentless and unnatural fear of confined and enclosed spaces. For example, tunnels, closets and even crowds. Claustrophobics feel trapped and shut in, and fear having no escape.

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    What is Claustrophobia?

    So, what is claustrophobia? When someone has claustrophobia, they feel horrified, frightened, anxious and nervous if they are in a small space. Claustrophobics explain that when they are in confined spaces - which can even include being in a crowd - it feels like they have no way out.

    The size of the space that triggers anxiety is different for each phobic; it can be very small, like a cupboard or as large as a doctor's waiting room. A person can even feel claustrophobic if they are stuck in traffic in their own vehicle.

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    Claustrophobia

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    What is Claustrophobia? Symptoms

    When an individual experiences claustrophobia, they feel both physical and emotional reactions to the situation and/or space they find themselves in. Claustrophobic symptoms are very similar to those of a panic attack. They may include the following:

    • Nausea
    • Trembling
    • Sweating
    • Feeling of dread, panic and terror
    • Rapid heart beat
    • Fainting or light-headedness
    • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
    • Anxiety
    • Crying
    • Restlessness

    The claustrophobic person will get the feeling that they can't breathe normally and correctly, and such is their fear that they will look for an escape route to get out of the space they feel is confining them. Even if the individual knows that there is no real threat from the area, the panic still overwhelms them.

    Knowing how they react to confined spaces, a person with claustrophobia will try to avoid any situation where they might be closed in. If they are in a room, they will spontaneously and involuntarily look for exits and can become anxious if they observe that the doors are closed; fearful that they won't be able to get out. They will avoid being in a car in heavy traffic, will give elevators a wide berth and shun airplanes and subways. If they are forced to be in crowded social circumstances, they will stand near the exits so they know they can get out if they feel they need to.

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    Claustrophobia- Causes

    Just like most other phobias the exact causes are not known, however, claustrophobia can run in families which suggests that there might be some genetic basis.

    Usually, the symptoms of claustrophobia will show up in childhood or during the teenage years. In the adult years, claustrophobia can go away. If it does not go away, some sort of treatment is usually required in order to rise above the fear.

    Sometimes, claustrophobics will have endured a previous, possibly traumatic experience (this typically occurs during childhood) involving a confined, narrow and small space. An example would be a child who finds him or herself trapped in a closet or a cellar or a shed during a game of hide and seek and being unable to set themselves free calls out for help. This may have taken some time to materialize which added to their fear and anxiety.

    The onset of claustrophobia can also happen to an adult after being trapped in a narrow room or even an elevator.

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    References

    Langone Medical Center, www.med.nyu.edu

    Medicine Net, www.medterms.com

    Image Source, http://www.flickr.com/photos/seraphimc/3547908266/