Specific phobia

Specific phobia
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 F40.2
ICD-9-CM 300.29
MeSH C562465

A specific phobia is any kind of anxiety disorder that amounts to an unreasonable or irrational fear related to exposure to specific objects or situations. As a result, the affected person tends to actively avoid direct contact with the objects or situations and, in severe cases, any mention or depiction of them. The fear can, in fact, be disabling to their daily lives.[1]

The fear or anxiety may be triggered both by the presence and the anticipation of the specific object or situation. A person who encounters that of which they are phobic will often show signs of fear or express discomfort. In some cases, it can result in a panic attack. In most adults, the person may logically know the fear is unreasonable but still find it difficult to control the anxiety. Thus, this condition may significantly impair the person's functioning and even physical health.

Specific phobia affects up to 12% of people at some point in their life.[2]


Main features of diagnostic criteria for specific phobia in the DSM-IV-TR:

Specific Phobia – DSM 5 Criteria[3]


According to the fourth revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, phobias can be classified under the following general categories:


The following are two therapies normally used in treating specific phobia:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a short term, skills-focused therapy that aims to help people diffuse unhelpful emotional responses by helping people consider them differently or change their behavior, is effective in treating specific phobias.[6] Exposure therapy is a particularly effective form of CBT for specific phobias.[6] Medications to aid CBT have not been as encouraging with the exception of adjunctive D-clycoserine.[7][8]

In general anxiolytic medication is not seen as helpful in specific phobia but benzodiazepine is sometimes used to help resolve acute episodes; as 2007 data were sparse for efficacy of any drug.[9]


Specific phobias have a one-year prevalence of 8.7% in the USA with 21.9% of the cases being severe, 30.0% moderate and 48.1% mild.[10][11] The usual age of onset is childhood to adolescence. Women are twice as likely to suffer from specific phobias as men.[12]

Evolutionary theory argues that infants or children develop specific phobias to things that could possibly harm them, so their phobias alert them to the danger. The most common co-occurring disorder for children with a specific phobia is another anxiety disorder. Although comorbidity is frequent for children with specific phobias, it tends to be lower than for other anxiety disorders. Onset is typically between 7 and 9 years of age. Specific phobias can occur at any age but seem to peak between 10 and 13 years of age.

See also


  1. "Phobias: Specific Phobias Types and Symptoms." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/specific-phobias
  2. Craske, MG; Stein, MB (24 June 2016). "Anxiety.". Lancet (London, England). PMID 27349358.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology" by Theodore Millon, Paul H. Blaney, Roger D. Davis (1999) ISBN 0-19-510307-6, p. 82
  5. DSM-IV-TR 300.29, p. 445.
  6. 1 2 Kaczkurkin, AN; Foa, EB (September 2015). "Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence.". Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. 17 (3): 337–46. PMC 4610618Freely accessible. PMID 26487814.
  7. Choy, MD, Yujuan; Fyer, Abby J.; Lipsitz, Josh D. (2007). "Treatment of specific phobia in adults". Clinical Psychology Review. 27 (3): 266–286. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2006.10.002.
  8. Ori, R; Amos, T; Bergman, H; Soares-Weiser, K; Ipser, JC; Stein, DJ (10 May 2015). "Augmentation of cognitive and behavioural therapies (CBT) with d-cycloserine for anxiety and related disorders.". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (5): CD007803. PMID 25957940.
  9. Choy, Y; Fyer, AJ; Lipsitz, JD (April 2007). "Treatment of specific phobia in adults.". Clinical psychology review. 27 (3): 266–86. PMID 17112646.
  10. Kessler, PhD, Ronald; Chiu, AM, Wai Tat; Demler, Olga; Walters, Ellen (2005). "Prevalence, Severity and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Archives of General Psychiatry. 62 (6): 617–709. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617. PMC 2847357Freely accessible. PMID 15939839.
  11. Narrow; et al. (2002). "Revised prevalence estimates of mental disorders in the United States". Archives of General Psychiatry. 59 (2): 115–123. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.59.2.115. PMID 11825131.
  12. Cameron, Alasdair (2004). Crash Course Psychiatry. Elsevier Ltd. ISBN 0-7234-3340-2.
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