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The Five Most Common Phobias

written by: Terrie Schultz • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/28/2010

People develop phobias about many different things, and these fears can be severely debilitating. Find out about some of the most common phobias.

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    What are the Five Most Common Phobias?

    A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear of a situation or object. Phobias are the most prevalent type of mental disorder in the U.S., affecting 19.2 million adults. They affect twice as many women as men, and may appear in children as young as five years of age. The cause of phobias is not well understood, but there is a correlation between the phobias of children and their parents, indicating they can be passed down. Other possible causes are traumatic events, genetics or brain chemistry. Here are descriptions of five of the most common phobias:

    Agoraphobia- fear of open spaces. People suffering from agoraphobia are afraid to be in public places or situations, especially locations that are crowded, such as sporting events, shopping centers, elevators, bridges or public transportation such as buses, trains or planes. Individuals with agoraphobia may feel that they will be unable to escape from the situation, and that it may lead to a panic attack. This phobia can be so severe that people are unable to leave their homes. About 1.8 million adults in the U.S. have agoraphobia.

    Arachnophobia- fear of spiders. This phobia occurs in about half of women and 10 percent of men. Those suffering from arachnophobia may try to avoid places where there is a possibility of coming in contact with spiders, such as going outdoors, camping, hiking, or entering a seldom-used part of a building such as an attic or basement. If they see a spider, they may have a panic reaction and run from the room, or freeze and be unable to move. They may also feel the necessity to search a room in case there are spiders present.

    Aviophobia- fear of flying. This disorder is also called aviatophobia or pteromerhanophobia. People suffering from aviophobia are convinced that if they fly, the plane will crash. Aviophobia occurs slightly more often in women, and in children of parents who also suffer from the disorder. Symptoms include a feeling of dread, shortness of breath, nausea, perspiration, dry mouth and heart palpitations. Exposure therapy is one effective way to treat aviophobia, and virtual reality therapy can accelerate the treatment.

    Claustrophobia- fear of enclosed places. Confined spaces such as small rooms, elevators, amusement park rides or crowds can cause people with claustrophobia to panic. Restraints such as seat belts intensify the discomfort. Symptoms include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, nausea and light headedness. There may be a sensation that the walls are closing in, and the person fears that he or she will be crushed or suffocated if they do not escape from the situation. This condition makes it difficult to travel or undergo medical procedures such as MRI scans.

    Social phobia- fear of being in public. Much more extreme than shyness, social phobia is an intense fear of being embarrassed in public. Individuals with social phobia avoid social situations such as restaurants, parties or interacting with others in the workplace. They may feel a sense of terror or dread, and they are extremely self-conscious. These feelings are often accompanied by physical symptoms of blushing, sweating, palpitations and stomach upset. Social phobia affects about 15 million adults in the U.S. It usually begins at or around the age of 13 years.