Phobias

Contributed by Dr Jean Watkins, a retired GP in Hampshire

Aracnophobia is the fear of spiders
Aracnophobia is the fear of spiders

Arachnophobia
Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. The life of arachnophobes may be governed by the need to search a room to ensure there are no spiders and the fear of the embarrassment that would follow a panic attack if one should appear. Systematic desensitisation is available - patients can learn relaxation techniques, first in imaginary situations and later in actual exposure to spiders. New approaches include a lifelike, computer-generated spider, where, with the use of virtual glasses and gloves, patients 'feel' the simulated spider walk across their hand.

Parasitophobia

Parasitophobia is the belief that there are parasites under the skin. Patients present with widespread lesions, where they have scratched and tried to 'dig out' parasites. The lesions may be infected and require treatment. Hallucinations of insects crawling on the skin may occur in association with drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines, with alcohol withdrawal or with a psychiatric disorder. Reassurance that no parasites are present may fall on deaf ears so the patient must be treated with understanding, in the hope that they may accept psychotherapy.

Pediophobia

The fear of dolls is known as pediophobia. One patient in his thirties presented with a genuine fear of dolls. He had coped until that time, however, with the birth of his daughter dolls appeared in the home and caused several panic attacks. On discussion, it transpired that his fear was due to a distressing event in his childhood that involved a doll. Tracing the cause of phobias is usually helpful in dealing with phobic patients. The reasons for their fears can be discussed, rationalised and looked at from an adult point of view. Hypnotherapy is another option.

Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the fear of open or crowded spaces or the fear of leaving a safe space. It can restrict the life of patients who may become housebound and dependent. Women are more commonly affected than men and it usually presents in the twenties age group. Exposure to the feared situation leads to symptoms of stress. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications may help but patients will often require systematic desensitisation with a specialist. It can be helpful to talk about the first time they felt these fears so the patient recognises their underlying problem and can come to terms with it.

Cynophobia

The fear of dogs is known as cynophobia and is often associated with the fear of catching rabies. The experience of a dog attack is often the cause of cynophobia. Early exposure of young children to dogs reduces the chance of a phobia developing. They can learn how to behave around the dog. They can also learn to recognise the warning signs of danger if the dog growls and to avoid running away that might cause the dog to chase. This learning process is better than undergoing counselling or a desensitisation programme at a later date.

Aviophobia or aviatophobia

Aviophobia or aviatophobia is the fear of flying. For some this may mean only that they will forego the pleasures of a holiday abroad, while for others it may severely impact their career. Specialist help is available in the form of courses run by certain airlines that inform, offer relaxation training and the option of a trial flight. Hypnosis is helpful for some and counselling addresses not only coping mechanisms but also the underlying causes for the fears and how to rationalise them.

Koumpounophobia

Koumpounophobia, the fear of buttons, is a relatively common problem. Even the sight of a button may induce vomiting. One patient believed that his problems stemmed from a childhood in a home where his mother worked as a dressmaker. She was constantly afraid that he would swallow or choke on one. The fear of pins and needles (aichmophobia) was also induced at the same time. Apart from the more conventional methods of dealing with patients to overcome their fears, hypnotherapy has been said to help.

Dentophobia

Dentophobia is the fear of dentists, which often leads to avoidance of regular check-ups. This can have a significant impact on quality of life. For some, however, the fear may be so great that early warning signs are neglected and they are left with far more serious and painful problems, such as dental abscess and/or the need for extraction.

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