A specific phobia is an unrealistic or extreme fear of a specific situation, object, or setting. For example, one may have a fear of medical or dental visits, heights, flying, elevators, germs, or spiders.
The DSM-5 divides specifc phobias into five broad categories:
- Animals, such as a fear of spiders, dogs, or bugs
- The natural environment, such as heights or thunderstorms
- Blood, injury, and injection, such as a fear of needles or medical procedures
- Situational, such as a fear of flying or riding in elevators
- Others, such as a fear of vomiting or choking
People with specific phobias often know there is no real reason to be afraid and that their behavior is not logical. However, they may simply feel powerless when faced with the fear, and even the anticipation of it can cause intense anxiety.
Specific phobias can emerge at any age, but usually start in childhood or adolescence, and the symptoms can be lifelong. The condition affects 7 to 9 percent of Americans, according to the DSM-5, and occurs twice as often in women than in men. About 75 percent of individuals with a specific phobia have more than one; an average patient has three.