Claustrophobia

Overview

Definition

Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder. The main problem is feeling an irrational fear of closed in or small spaces. People with claustrophobia often say it’s like feeling trapped without a way out. It causes you to react to certain situations. The fear of claustrophobia can be strong. But, it can be treated.

Physical reaction anxiety
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Causes

The cause isn't well known. It's likely a mix of genes and environment.

Risk Factors

Your chances of claustrophobia are higher for:

  • Having people in your family with the same problems
  • Feeling very nervous in small room or space
  • Not going in or near places where you had a prior nervous feeling or a panic attack

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Claustrophobia starts when you're a child or teen. It may bring on feelings like a panic attack and cause:

  • Sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing
  • Problems breathing
  • Trembling
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Nausea
  • Feelings of dread or terror

You may also:

  • Look for exit doors when in a room
  • Feel very nervous if doors are shut
  • Not use elevators, subways or airplanes, or cars in heavy traffic
  • Stand near exit doors in crowded places

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on your constant or irrational fear that may:

  • Be started by waiting for something to happen
  • Cause panic attacks linked to the fear-causing situation
  • Make it hard for you to get through your day
  • That is not explained by other disorders

Treatments

Treatment

Claustrophobia can go away on its as you get older. If not, it can be treated by getting over your fear. This is done with:

Counseling

The most common method is with counseling. It's targeted help you see and get over your fear. It will also help you control situations that start your feelings.

Methods involve:

  • Learning to relax and see ways to calm the fear when you are in certain places that cause fear.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—Changing how you react to fear when you start to feel it.

Medicines

Your doctor may advice taking medicines. They will help you to control your feelings of panic. They are mainly used as part of counseling.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent claustrophobia since the cause is unknown.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

American Psychiatric Association https://www.psychiatry.org 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Mental Health Association https://cmha.ca 

Canadian Psychiatric Association https://www.cpa-apc.org 

References

Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Updated July 2018. Accessed August 29, 2018.

Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113844/Specific-phobia . Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2016.

Treatment. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Available at: https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment. Accessed August 29, 2018.