Acrophobia : Symptoms & Prevention

Acrophobia is a frequent specific phobia defined by a fear of heights disproportionate to the real dangers. This disorder gives rise to anxious reactions which can degenerate into acute anxiety attacks when the person finds himself in height or in front of the void. The treatments offered consist in deconstructing this fear of heights by gradually confronting it.

 Acrophobia, what is it?

Definition of acrophobia

Acrophobia is a specific phobia defined by a fear of heights disproportionate to the real dangers.

This anxiety disorder is characterized by an irrational fear of panic when the person finds himself in height or facing the void. Acrophobia is amplified in the absence of protection between the void and the person. It can also be triggered at the mere thought of being up high, or even by proxy, when the acrophobe visualizes a person in a similar situation.

Acrophobia can seriously complicate the practical, social and psychological lives of those who suffer from it.

Types of acrophobia

There is only one type of acrophobia. However, care must be taken not to confuse it with vertigo, due to a dysfunction of the vestibular system or to neurological or cerebral damage.

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Causes of acrophobia

Different causes can be at the origin of acrophobia:

  • A trauma, such as a fall, experienced by the person himself or caused by another person in this type of situation;
  • Education and the parenting model, like permanent warnings about the dangers of such and such a place;
  • A past problem of vertigo which leads to an anticipated fear of situations where the person is in height.

Some researchers also believe that acrophobia could be innate and have contributed to the survival of the species by promoting better adaptation to the environment – here, protecting yourself from falls – thousands of years ago.

Diagnosis of acrophobia

The first diagnosis, made by an attending physician via the description of the problem experienced by the patient himself, will or will not justify the implementation of therapy.

People affected by acrophobia

Acrophobia often develops during childhood or adolescence. But when it follows a traumatic event, it can occur at any age. It is estimated that 2 to 5% of French people suffer from acrophobia.

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Factors favoring acrophobia

If acrophobia can have a genetic component and therefore hereditary which would explain a predisposition to this type of anxiety disorder, this is not enough to explain their occurrence.

 Symptoms of acrophobia

Avoidance behaviors

Acrophobia triggers the establishment of avoidance mechanisms in acrophobes so as to suppress any confrontation with height or emptiness.

Anxious reaction

Confronting a situation in height or facing a void, even its simple anticipation, can be enough to trigger an anxious reaction in acrophobes:

Rapid heartbeat;

  • Sweat ;
  • Tremors;
  • Sensation of being drawn to emptiness;
  • Feeling of losing balance;
  • Chills or hot flashes;
  • Dizziness or vertigo.

Acute anxiety attack

In some situations, the anxiety reaction can lead to an acute anxiety attack. These attacks come on suddenly but can stop just as quickly. They last between 20 and 30 minutes on average and their main symptoms are as follows:

  • Impression of breathlessness;
  • Tingling or numbness;
  • Chest pain ;
  • Feeling of strangulation;
  • Nausea;
  • Fear of dying, going crazy or losing control;
  • Impression of unreality or detachment from oneself.
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 Treatments for acrophobia

Like all phobias, acrophobia is all the easier to treat if it is treated as soon as it appears. The first step is to find the cause of acrophobia, when it exists.

Different therapies, associated with relaxation techniques, then make it possible to deconstruct the fear of emptiness by gradually confronting it:

  • Psychotherapy;
  • Cognitive and behavioral therapies;
  • Hypnosis;
  • Cyber ​​therapy, which allows the patient to be gradually exposed to situations of vacuum in virtual reality;
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or desensitization and reprocessing by eye movements;
  • Mindfulness meditation.

Temporary prescription of drugs such as antidepressants or anxiolytics is sometimes indicated when the person is unable to follow these therapies.

Prevent acrophobia

Difficult to prevent acrophobia. On the other hand, once the symptoms have eased or disappeared, the prevention of a relapse can be improved with the help of relaxation techniques:

  • Breathing techniques;
  • Sophrology;
  • Yoga.