Claustrophobia is a situational phobia that is triggered by an irrational and intense fear of tight or crowded spaces. It can be elicited by things like being locked in a windowless room, being stuck in a crowded elevator, or driving on a congested highway.
Claustrophobia is one of the most common phobias that people have and if you experience claustrophobia, you may feel like you’re having a panic attack, although claustrophobia isn’t a panic disorder.
Claustrophobia may disappear on its own for some people, while others may need therapy to manage and cope with their symptoms.
What are the common symptoms of claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia symptoms may appear following a trigger for the phobia, like being in a closed room or a crowded space.
However, what you consider a small space can differ depending on the severity of your phobia.
You may feel like you’re having a panic attack when you experience symptoms of claustrophobia.
Symptoms of claustrophobia may include:
- hot flashes
- feeling intense fear or panic
- becoming anxious
- shortness of breath
- rapid heartbeat
- chest tightness or pain
- feeling faint or lightheaded
- feeling confused or disorientated
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These symptoms can be mild or severe. If you’re claustrophobic, you may:
- Avoid triggering situations, like riding in airplanes, subways, elevators, or in cars during heavy traffic
- You may feel scared that the doors will shut while you’re in a room
- Stand directly or nearby the exits while in a crowded place
- Automatically and compulsively look for the exits in every space you enter
Who is the most affected by claustrophobia?
Prof Dr. Manjari Tripathi, Neurologist at Aiims Delhi, said, “Claustrophobia is very common. Anyone can have claustrophobia. However, people who have anxiety traits are more likely to have it.”
“Studies have generally indicated that about 7% of the population, or up to 10%, is affected by claustrophobia,” says Bernard J. Vittone, MD, founder, and director of The National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression. “I think that studies underestimate how common it actually is. It’s one of the most common psychiatric problems.”
What are the main causes of claustrophobia?
Dr. Tripathi said, “Any closed space can trigger claustrophobia such as a closed room small, lifts, MRI machines which are closed caves and others.” Likewise, wearing tight-necked clothing may also cause feelings of claustrophobia in some individuals, according to studies.
Little is known about what causes claustrophobia but the environmental factors may play a big role.
According to studies, people typically develop claustrophobia during childhood or in their teenage years.
Claustrophobia could be related to dysfunction of the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls how we process fear or the phobia. It can also be caused due to a traumatic event in the past.
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How claustrophobia is diagnosed and when to seek medical help?
“The commonest phobia diagnosis is by history and by exposing to a situation in doubtful cases along with management like counseling psychotherapy desensitization or CBT Cognitive Behavior Therapy and in severe cases, medication is often suggested,” explained Dr. Tripathi.
Can a person suffering from claustrophobia live a normal life without getting medical help?
They can lead a normal life, says Dr. Tripathi. However, claustrophobia can be treated and cured and there are different ways to treat your fear and symptoms so that you can have an active and healthy life ahead.