A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal.

Phobias are more pronounced than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.

If a phobia becomes very severe, a person may organise their life around avoiding the thing that's causing them anxiety. As well as restricting their day-to-day life, it can also cause a lot of distress.

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. You may not experience any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia.

But in some cases, even thinking about the source of a phobia can make a person feel anxious or panicky. This is known as anticipatory anxiety.

Symptoms may include:

  • unsteadiness, dizziness and lightheadedness

  • nausea

  • sweating

  • increased heart rate or palpitations

  • shortness of breath

  • trembling or shaking

  • an upset stomach

If you do not come into contact with the source of your phobia very often, it may not affect your everyday life.

But if you have a complex phobia, such as agoraphobia, leading a normal life may be very difficult.

Specific or simple phobias centre around a particular object, animal, situation or activity.

They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older.

Common examples of simple phobias include:

  • animal phobias – such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents

  • environmental phobias – such as heights, deep water and germs

  • situational phobias – such as visiting the dentist or flying

  • bodily phobias – such as blood, vomit or having injections

  • sexual phobias – such as performance anxiety or the fear of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) 

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