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Phobias

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an identifiable and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable and is triggered by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. Children and adolescents with one or more phobias consistently experience anxiety when exposed to the specific object or situation. Common phobias include fear of animals, blood, heights, closed spaces, or flying. In children and adolescents, the identified fear must last at least six months to be considered a phobia rather than a transient fear. Types of phobias seen in children and adolescents include the following:

What causes phobias?

Research suggests that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the onset of phobias. Specific phobias have been associated with a fearful first encounter with the phobic object or situation. The question still exists, however, whether this conditioning exposure is necessary or if phobias can develop in genetically predisposed individuals.

Who is affected by phobias?

Anxiety disorders are common in all ages. Phobias in children and adolescents are estimated to occur in up to 9 percent of this population.

What are symptoms seen in an adolescent with a phobia?

The following are the most common symptoms that may occur when a child or adolescent is exposed to, or anticipates exposure to, a specific object or situation that produces intense fear or anxiety. However, each adolescent experiences symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

In panic attacks, at least four of the above listed symptoms must occur with or without a known and identifiable cause.

The symptoms of a phobia may resemble other medical conditions or psychiatric problems. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

How are phobias diagnosed?

A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses anxiety disorders in children or adolescents following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. Parents who note signs of severe anxiety in their child or teen can help by seeking an evaluation and treatment early. Early treatment can prevent future problems.

Panic disorder, however, may be difficult to diagnose in children and adolescents and may require multiple evaluations and tests in a variety of settings.

Treatment for phobias:

Specific treatment for phobias will be determined by your adolescent's physician based on:

Phobias, like other anxiety disorders, can be effectively treated. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family. Treatment recommendations may include individual or cognitive behavioral therapy for the adolescent (focused on helping the adolescent learn new ways to control anxiety and panic attacks when/if they do occur), family therapy, and consultation with the adolescent's school. Some adolescents may also benefit from treatment with medication - specifically, medications to stop the occurrence of panic attacks. Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.

Prevention of phobias:

Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of phobias in adolescents are not known at this time. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the adolescent's normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life experienced by children or adolescents with anxiety disorders.

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