Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Claustrophobia

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces from which escape can be difficult.

Claustrophobia is a Latin word which is derived from the word claustrum which means “closed place” and the word, Phobos which means “fear”

People suffering from claustrophobia avoid confined places like subway, tube trains, tunnels, and public toilets. They also prefer stairs over an elevator.

The Symptoms of claustrophobia can be severe, but generally, people do not seek treatment.

The people with claustrophobia are fearful in situations where no realistic or obvious danger is present.

Symptoms of Claustrophobia

The people with claustrophobia experience various distressing and frightening symptoms including feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.

Claustrophobia can also cause some physical symptoms like the following:

  • Trembling/shivering
  • Sweating
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness and headaches Nausea
  • The sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • Difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath
  • Choking sensation
  • The feeling of tightness in the chest or chest pain
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat, more than 100 times per minute)
  • The sensation of ringing in ears
  • State of confusion or disorientation

Some severe psychological symptoms of claustrophobia are the following:

  • Fear of fainting
  • fear of losing control
  • fear of death

The person with severe claustrophobia feels uncomfortable at a party and keeps standing near the door in a crowded room. He/she keeps on checking for the exits or feeling alarmed when the doors are closed. He/she also feels discomfort inside a vehicle during heavy traffic. Such a person also prefers to take the stairs rather than the lift. In extreme conditions, the person with severe claustrophobia feels panic attacks in a confined room.

Causes of Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia can be caused by the traumatic events experienced by a person during early childhood. An adult can develop claustrophobia if, as a child, he/she was kept in a confined place or was trapped in it.  Child abuse or bullying can also contribute to it.

Unpleasant situations or experiences can also trigger claustrophobia. The unpleasant situations can be being stuck in a tube tunnel between stations or turbulence during flying.

The people having claustrophobic parent are also at risk of developing this condition. The child growing up with a claustrophobic parent can develop claustrophobia, by associating the confined places with their parent’s anxiety and feeling helplessness in comforting the anxiety of the person they loved.

Diagnosis of Claustrophobia 

A psychiatrist or psychologist can diagnose the symptoms of claustrophobia. The psychologist can use the following ways to diagnose the symptoms of claustrophobia:

  • The psychologist can ask for a description of the severity of symptoms experienced by the patient
  • He can also question about the things and places which act as the triggers of claustrophobia
  • The psychologist can also use “claustrophobia questionnaire” to identify the cause of anxiety
  • The claustrophobia scale can also be used. It helps in identifying the level of anxiety

The presence of the following conditions can lead to the diagnosis of Claustrophobia:

  • A persistent unreasonable fear due to the presence or even in the absence of a threating or frightening situation
  • Panic attacks (clinging, crying, tantrum or freezing) in response to anxiety
  • The persistence of phobia for a longer time, usually 6 months or longer
  • The symptoms are different from other mental condition, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • The tendency to avoid the frightening or distressing situation which interferes with everyday life and relationships
  • Avoiding confined or closed places. In a confined space, some people with claustrophobia experience mild anxiety while others can have severe panic or anxiety attacks. One of the most common experiences is the fear of losing control.

Triggers of Claustrophobia

The exposure of many places or situations can act as a trigger of claustrophobia. Sometimes over thinking about such situations or places without exposure to them can also act as a trigger.

Some common triggers of claustrophobia are the following:

  • Tunnels
  • Lifts
  • Planes
  • Public toilets
  • Revolving doors
  • Tube trains
  • Rooms with sealed windows
  • Market changing rooms
  • Cars having central locking

The existence of above-mentioned symptoms is the symbol of claustrophobia.

MRI Scan for Claustrophobia

If the person is suffering from claustrophobia, then an MRI scan can be performed.

During the MRI Scan, the doctor can give you a mild sedative to avoid anxiety related to MRI scan.

In some cases, the patient can attend an open or upright MRI center which is designed for people having severe MRI anxiety. Such clinics and centers are often only available privately.

Treatment of Claustrophobia

Most people with claustrophobia are fully aware of their condition and take great care to avoid confined spaces. Such people can also take help from a specialist in behavioral therapy, such as a psychologist.

Claustrophobia can be treated gradually by exposing the patient to the situation that triggers their fear. This process is known as “self-exposure therapy “or “desensitization”. The patient can try this technique on their own or with the help of a professional.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is also effective for the treatment of phobias. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a talking therapy. It deals with the feelings, thoughts, and behavior of an individual and develops the practical ways of effectively dealing with your phobias.

Flooding is also effective. It is an exposure treatment in which the person is exposed to their phobic triggers. The triggers are given until the anxiety attack passes. It is a powerful form of therapy because it makes them realize that they can overcome the frightening situations.

Certain medications can also be used to avoid anxiety and panic attacks. Medications like antidepressants and tranquilizers can be effective. These medications can also help in psychological treatment.

Counter-conditioning is also an option to cope with the anxiety of claustrophobia. During this process, the person is taught to use specific visualization and relaxation techniques during their phobia-related anxiety. Then, the person is slowly exposed to his/her phobic trigger. This is a step-by-step process. During the gradual exposure of trigger, the person concentrates on mental and physical relaxation via the help of visualization and relaxation techniques. In this way, the counter conditioning helps the person in confronting their source of fear without feeling anxious. This process is known as “systematic desensitization”

Modeling can also be performed. During this process, the patient watches other people confront their specific phobic trigger which doesn’t induce fear. In this way, it encourages patients and boosts their confidence.

Final Thoughts 

Claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces and its symptoms can be less severe in some individuals while more severe in others. Therefore, claustrophobic people should not avoid their symptoms and consult psychologist on time to avoid future complications.

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