Phobias

Also known as: fears, fear reaction, anxiety disorder.

What are phobias?

A phobia is an excessive, unreasonable, persistent (lasting for at least 6 months) fear of something, place or situation, that causes the child or adolescent, to feel anxious when exposed to it. It can affect people of all ages.

This anxiety disorder may be mild and just annoying, or severe when it may be quite disabling and interfere with daily living. Some phobias are specific like fear of a person, insect, graveyard, needle, riding an escalator or elevator or being alone in the dark.

Others phobias cause extreme and intense fear-related bodily symptoms, known as panic attacks. Panic attacks can occur in social settings (social anxiety disorder), or if the child is left alone or outside (agoraphobia), they can also occur when being separated from a parent (separation anxiety disorder) or, a when a child or teen becomes so anxious that he/she cannot speak in certain social situations (selective mutism).

What causes phobias in children and teens?

Some phobias are genetic/inherited (tends to run in families), biological and environmental factors (a traumatic experience like an illness or death in the family), have all been implicated as causes.

What are the symptoms of phobias?

Potential symptoms of specific phobias can include avoiding the object or situation, fear with exposure, and in severe cases panic like symptoms including:

  • trembling/shaking
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • a choking feeling
  • panic
  • fear
  • rapid heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • a desire to run
  • upset stomach.
Agoraphobia may present with refusal to leave home. Social phobia presents with children refusing to be placed in situations that cause them anxiety.

What are phobias care options?

Psychotherapy with or without medications are typical treatment options.


Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: 11/19/2019 4:23:03 PM

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Panic Disorder

Please see mood and anxiety disorders for further information.

Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is a complex childhood anxiety disorder in which the child will speak at certain times when in a comfortable secure and relaxed environment, but not necessarily in other situations. Learn more

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After a threatened or actual catastrophic incident children and adolescents may experience ongoing difficulties and symptoms which are called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Learn more

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