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Quick Facts on Specific Phobia

A brief overview of the signs and symptoms of specific phobia, and how it's treated in children and adolescents.


Specific phobia is a disorder characterized by an excessive and irrational fear when faced with a particular object, situation, or even the thought of encountering something not normally considered dangerous. Children with specific phobia aren’t anxious in general; they only become so when confronted with the particular thing that causes them terror, such as dogs, the dark, clowns, insects, blood, or loud noises. Specific phobia is more common among girls than boys.

Symptoms of specific phobia

  • Excessive fear of a particular object or situation
  • Anticipatory dread or full-blown panic attacks,
  • Crying or throwing tantrums to avoid what’s feared
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating

Treatment for specific phobia

Specific phobia is highly treatable through behavior therapy. Medication is not usually prescribed. The most effective treatment is called exposure and response prevention, which involves gradual, repeated exposure to the feared object, event or situation until the anxiety response diminishes. A child afraid of dogs might start treatment by looking at a picture of a dog, then playing with a stuffed dog, then being in the same room with a small dog, and so on. Cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches strategies for coping with fear and anxious thought patterns is another common option for older children.