A phobia is a common condition that is characterized by marked fear of specific objects or situations. Exposure to the object of the phobia, either in real life or via imagination (including viewing it on video or film), invariably elicits intense anxiety, which may include a panic attack related to a particular situation or object. Adults generally recognize that this intense fear is irrational. Nevertheless, they typically avoid the phobic object/situation or endure exposure to it with great difficulty. The most common specific phobias include the following feared stimuli or situations: animals (especially snakes, rodents, birds, and dogs); insects (especially spiders and bees or hornets); heights; elevators; flying; automobile driving; water; storms; and blood or injections.
Approximately 8 percent of the adult population suffers from one or more specific phobias in 1 year. There are many more individuals who have phobias that would not reach the level of severity that is required to diagnose them with a phobia. Typically, the specific phobias begin in childhood, although there is a second “peak” of onset in the middle 20s of adulthood (DSM-IV). Most phobias persist for years or even decades, and relatively few remit spontaneously or without treatment.
The specific phobias generally do not result from exposure to a single traumatic event (i.e., being bitten by a dog or nearly drowning), although it does occur. Rather, there is evidence of phobia in other family members and social or vicarious learning of phobias. Spontaneous, unexpected panic attacks also appear to play a role in the development of specific phobia.
An excerpt from Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
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