Specific Phobia in Adults


ICD-10 code: F40.298

Specific phobia is part of a cluster of diagnoses called the anxiety disorders.  Anxiety disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions that include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific phobia
  • Separation anxiety disorder

These disorders are characterized primarily by the experience of excessive fear and anxiety.  People with generalized anxiety disorder spend a lot of time worrying about a lot of different things.  People with social anxiety disorder feel very anxious around other people because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves or being disliked.  People with panic disorder have sudden rushes of intense fear or discomfort called panic attacks.  They often worry about having another panic attack and might avoid certain situations that might trigger a panic attack.  People with agoraphobia are afraid of going into certain situations because they are afraid it might be difficult to escape or because they might experience panic-like or other embarrassing symptoms.  Commonly avoided situations are using public transportation, being in open spaces like parking lots, being in enclosed places like movie theaters, or being in a crowd.  People with a specific phobia are afraid of a certain object or situation, such as flying, heights, animals, or seeing blood.  People with separation anxiety disorder are afraid of being away from a certain person, usually because they are afraid that something bad might happen to them or the other person if they are separated.

The anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear and anxiety, along with behavioral disturbances, like avoiding certain places, people, or situations.  The anxiety disorders differ from each other in the target or focus of the fear.  In some anxiety disorders, like specific phobia, the person is only excessively fearful of a very specific object or situation.  In other anxiety disorders, like GAD, the person may feel anxious a great deal of the time or about a lot of different things.

What is specific phobia?

Specific phobia is a relatively common psychiatric disorder that affects approximately 7-9% of adults.  Specific phobia is characterized by fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation. Most people with specific phobia fear more than one object or situation.

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Understanding Specific Phobia

Specific phobia severity can range from mild to very impairing.  In severe cases, specific phobia can lead to serious problems at work, school, or leisure activities. For example, some individuals with flying phobia have significant difficulty traveling for business or family vacations.

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How is specific phobia treated?

Specific phobia is treatable.  Published treatment guidelines for specific phobia are provided by the Society of Clinical Psychology.



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