Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by irrational fear of enclosed or small spaces. People with claustrophobia often describe it as feeling trapped without an exit or way out. Claustrophobia involves emotional and physical reactions to triggering situations. The fear of claustrophobia may be intense, but treatment can help manage or overcome it.
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Claustrophobia usually develops early in life during childhood or the teenage years. Claustrophobia may bring on feelings similar to a panic attack , which may cause:
- Rapid heart beat
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Feelings of dread, terror, panic
Other symptoms of claustrophobia may include:
- Automatically and compulsively looking for exits when in a room or feeling fearful if doors are shut
- Avoiding elevators, riding in subways or airplanes, or cars in heavy traffic
- Standing near exits in crowded social situations
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Diagnosis is based on your history of persistent or excessive fear that may:
- Be triggered by anticipating an event or situation
- Cause panic attacts associated with the fear-causing situation
- Interfere with normal daily activities
- That is not explained by another disorder
Claustrophobia can disappear in adulthood. If it does not, treatment is usually necessary to overcome the fear. Talk with your doctor or mental health provider about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
The most common type of treatment for claustrophobia involves mental health counseling targeted to overcoming the fear and managing triggering situations.
Different types of strategies include:
- Relaxation and visualization techniques designed to calm the fear when in a claustrophobic environment
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—an approach that involves learning to control the thoughts that occur when confronted with the fear-inducing situation in order to change the reaction
Your doctor may prescribe medications to control the panic and physical symptoms of claustrophobia. These include antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. They will not cure the condition but are often helpful when used with psychotherapy.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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