It is estimated that one person in every ten has a particular phobia which causes them attacks of extreme panic that can occur at any time and in any place.

Anyone who has experienced the symptoms of a mild panic attack – whether because you nearly missed a flight or train, or because a spider scuttled out from behind the shower curtain – may begin to imagine how a phobia sufferer might feel, but it is hard to conceive just how widely a phobia can affect a person’s life.

According to one psychologist, phobias are characterized by four factors:

A persistent, irrational fear of an object or situation
A powerful desire to avoid the object or situation
Significant distress associated with the problem
Depending on the cause of the phobia, some people are so badly affected that they cannot leave their own homes or lead a normal life. They often make excuses to avoid going out or joining in activities with family and friends. For many, the thought of travelling to work or going shopping, for example, is just petrifying. To someone who is not affected the fears may seem completely irrational and out of all proportion to the cause, but the terror is very real to the phobia sufferer. Anything from spiders to airplanes can trigger the symptoms, which include racing breath, pounding heart, dizziness, and sweating. Among the most common phobias are claustrophobia (the fear of being in confined or crowded places), agoraphobia (the fear of being in open places). Often a person who is prone to phobias may suffer from more than one fear. In extreme cases, phobias can drive people to suicide.