Your doctor or a mental health provider may suggest medications or behavior therapy or both to treat phobias. Most adults don't get better on their own and may require some type of treatment. The goal of phobia treatment is to reduce your anxiety and fear and to help you better manage your reactions to the object or situation that causes them.
Medications can help control the anxiety and panic from thinking about or being exposed to the object or situation you fear.
- Beta blockers. These medications work by blocking the stimulating effects of adrenaline on your body, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, pounding heart, and shaking voice and limbs that are caused by anxiety. Short-term use of beta blockers can be effective in decreasing symptoms when taken before an anticipated event, for example, before a performance for people who have severe stage fright.
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly used in the treatment of phobias. These medications act on the chemical serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain that's believed to influence mood. As an alternative, your doctor may prescribe another type of antidepressant, depending on your situation.
- Sedatives. Medications called benzodiazepines help you relax by reducing the amount of anxiety you feel. Sedatives need to be used with caution because they can be addictive and should be avoided if you have a history of alcohol or drug dependence.
Talking with a trained mental health professional can help you deal with your phobias.Several types of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, may be effective.
- Desensitization or exposure therapy focuses on changing your response to the object or situation that you fear and may be helpful for phobias. Gradual, repeated exposure to the cause of your phobia may help you learn to conquer your anxiety. For example, if you're afraid of elevators, your therapy may progress from simply thinking about getting into an elevator, to looking at pictures of elevators, to going near an elevator, to stepping into an elevator. Next, you may take a one-floor ride, then ride several floors and then ride in a crowded elevator.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy involves exposure combined with other techniques to learn ways to view and cope with the feared object or situation differently.You learn alternative beliefs about your fears and the impact they have on your life. There's special emphasis on learning to develop a sense of mastery and control of your thoughts and feelings.
Treatment depends on the type of phobia you have:
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- Specific phobias usually are treated with exposure therapy.
- Social phobias may be treated with exposure therapy or with antidepressants or beta blockers.
- Agoraphobia, especially when it's accompanied by a panic disorder, is usually treated with exposure therapy or with SSRIs.
- Anxiety disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed July 25, 2013.
- Phobias. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.psychiatry.org/phobias. Accessed July 22, 2013.
- Phobic disorders. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric_disorders/anxiety_disorders/phobic_disorders.html?qt=phobic%20disorders&alt=sh. Accessed July 29, 2013.
- Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Accessed July 29, 2013.
- Augustyn M. Overview of fears and specific phobias in children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 29, 2013.
- Whiteside SP (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 27, 2013.
- Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 29, 2013.
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