Fear is a normal response when health or safety is threatened. Yet for people with phobias, the MOST common of anxiety disorders, irrational fear of a situation or object may result in SUCH extreme emotional and physical reactions that daily life suffers dramatically. Common phobias involve an intense and unreasonable fear of anything from social situations, to public places that appear to be inescapable or dangerous, as well as objects or animals. When these fears become so all-consuming that they prevent a person from living a normal life, it's wise to consider seeking professional help. While there are no laboratory tests to diagnose phobias, a family physician will know the questions to ask in order to determine whether the fears are actually caused by a phobia - or if the symptoms may be masking a physical illness. Diagnosing a phobia involves meeting the criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association and varies slightly according to the three main categories of phobias: Specific Phobias, also known as Simple Phobias; Social Phobia, also known as Social Anxiety Disorder; and Agoraphobia, which may be accompanied by panic attacks. The common factor in all diagnosed phobias is the presence of persistent and irrational fear of a situation or object, the realization that the fear is unreasonable and uncontrollable, intense anxiety when exposed to the fear, and avoiding the source of fear at all costs. Most phobias can be treated effectively using various techniques to help reduce the fear and anxiety that arises in response to the fear. These techniques include: behavioral therapy, medication - or a combination of the two, depending on the type of phobia. Behavioral therapy typically involves working with a trained therapist who helps patients confront the source of their fear through real or imagined scenarios. The goal is to help patients learn to conquer fear and anxiety through gradual, repeated exposure to the subject of the phobia. A therapist may address fear of flying by having the patient look at airplane pictures, then go to an airport, sit on an airplane and - ultimately - taking a flight. A similar approach would be used with a patient who fears dogs. Various medications are also used in the treatment of phobias. Tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax may be used to treat the anxiety that accompanies phobias, while anti-depressants like Zoloft or Paxil may be used to help prevent the panic attacks that often accompany symptoms of agoraphobia. Phobias can often interfere with leading a normal life. But, in most cases, phobias can be successfully treated with behavioral therapy and medication. For help with a phobia, consult your doctor or mental health professional.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012