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The Most Common Symptoms of Claustrophobia

written by: Theresa Smith • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/12/2010

Phobias affect over 20 million Americans and the fear of closed spaces, also known as claustrophobia, is one of the more common phobias. Learn the signs and symptoms of claustrophobia. Recognizing the problem is the first step to resolution.

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    What is Claustrophobia?

    Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder that afflicts many people; however it is much more prevalent in women. Claustrophobia is a specific phobia that manifests itself as an irrational fear of small confined places or even a room filled with many people. A person who is claustrophobic is likely to experience this intense fear inside of elevators, a plane or even a bus. The symptoms that claustrophobes experience are much like the symptoms of other known phobias.

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    Common Symptoms of Claustrophobia

    Symptoms that may manifest themselves in those afflicted with claustrophobia include, but are not limited to sweating, hyperventilation, a rise in heart rate, a dry mouth, shaking, light-headedness and in more extreme cases nausea, fainting and even a full blown panic attack.

    The symptoms of claustrophobia may be displayed in different combinations and in different degrees of severity, depending on the person afflicted.

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    Signs of Claustrophobia

    The signs that a person is claustrophobic may vary just as the symptoms do. Many claustrophobes will look around to check where the exits are when entering a room. They will very often devise an escape strategy. They may also stand near those exit doors. Remember people who are claustrophobic have a fear of something happening within this room, even though there is no danger. They feel the need to be able to make a quick getaway.

    Elevators at 240 Sparks, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada Another sign of a claustrophobe is that they will choose to take the stairs instead of an elevator. They will often imagine the elevator breaking down and then being stuck in that small space. They may use the excuse that they need the extra exercise. A claustrophobic person may jump and panic when hearing a door close behind then. They hate to feel trapped and will begin to panic.

    Driving may be a problem for some as well. They will not drive long distances and will choose to get in a vehicle during times of light traffic. Claustrophobes will often prefer to drive during the day.

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    There are no set criteria for the "contraction" of a phobia. Many studies indicate that a phobia may come from something that happens during childhood. It is common and normal for children to be afraid of certain things especially when faced with the fear of the unknown. It is when this fear intensifies over time and continues to affect a person into adulthood that it becomes a problem and is labeled a phobia.

    For example, a person may recall being locked in a closet by accident or as a joke by a sibling, and put this down as a cause of their claustrophobia. They may have felt helpless and feared they may never have got out of the closet.

    Another possible cause that some people can be trace back to their childhood is being caught in an elevator that stalled or hearing the alarm going off while inside. It is these types of events, things that we may think nothing of in later life that can turn into a phobia over time.

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    Image Credit

    Picture released into public domain under GNU Free Documentation License.