Alice A. McCarthy, MBA
Claustrophobia is an
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.
The cause of claustrophobia is not well known, but it is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Factors that may increase your chance of developing a claustrophobic anxiety attack include:
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:
Other symptoms of claustrophobia may include:
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:
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:
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.
There are no current guidelines to prevent claustrophobia.
American Psychiatric Association
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113844/Specific-phobia. Updated March 13, 2013. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Treatment. Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Available at:
http://www.adaa.org/finding-help/treatment. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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