A persistent, irrational fear of, and desire to avoid, a particular object or situation. Many people have minor phobias. A phobia is considered a psychiatric disorder when it interferes with normal social functioning. Simple phobias (specific phobias) are the most common. These may involve fear of particular animals or situations, such as enclosed spaces ( claustrophobia). Animal phobias usually start in childhood, but others develop at any time. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the wishes of the individual. Agoraphobia is a more serious phobia, often causing severe impairment. The disorder usually starts in the late teens or early 20s. Social phobia is fear of being exposed to scrutiny, such as a fear of eating or speaking in public. This disorder usually begins in late childhood or early adolescence. Causes of phobias are unknown. Simple phobias are thought by some to be a form of conditioning. For example, a person with a fear of dogs may have been frightened by a dog in childhood. Exposure to the feared object or situation causes intense anxiety and, in some cases, a panic attack. Phobias may be associated with depression or obsessive–compulsive behaviour. Treatment may be with behaviour therapy and sometimes antidepressant drugs.


Online Medical Dictionary: Your essential reference to over 5000 medical terms.