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What to Know About Ophidiophobia (Fear of Snakes)

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 09, 2021

Ophidiophobia is a kind of phobia where you have an extreme fear of snakes. It is perfectly normal for adults and children to have fears, but having a simple fear of snakes is different from having a phobia. ‌

Fear of snakes is very common. Half the people in the world feel anxious about snakes. Only 2% to 3% of those who are afraid of snakes may be having ophidiophobia, where the fear is so extreme it starts to interfere with their life or sense of well-being. Ophidiophobia is treated as an anxiety disorder.‌  

You have ophidiophobia if:

  • ‌You have intense fear, panic, or anxiety that is unreasonable and difficult to manage.  
  • The fear of snakes is out of proportion to the danger.
  • Your fear lasts longer than 6 months.
  • Your fear starts to negatively impact your life. You may find it difficult to behave normally in work, school, or social situations.

What Causes Ophidiophobia?

‌An intense and unexplainable fear of snakes can be caused by any number of reasons: 

  • Negative experiences with snakes in the past:  If you had a negative experience with snakes that affected you badly in the past — like in your childhood, for example — it may have caused you to develop a phobia.
  • ‌Learned behavior: You may develop the phobia if a close family member like a parent had the same phobia or had anxiety around snakes.
  • Genetics: Some people may genetically have a greater tendency to develop phobias. 

Symptoms

‌People with phobias can often experience panic attacks. They can also experience a sudden feeling of intense fear, anxiety and panic when exposed to snakes. They experience this extreme fear when just thinking about snakes without being physically near them.

Other symptoms of ophidiophobia to watch out for include: 

  • ‌You know that your fear doesn’t make sense but you still struggle to manage it.
  • You do everything you can to avoid places or situations where you might find snakes, or you can be around snakes but not without experiencing the intense fear.
  • ‌Your anxiety gets worse if it looks like the snake or snakes are coming closer to you. 
  • Sweating. 
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Nausea.
  • ‌Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • ‌Children may have tantrums or show clingy or crying behaviours when they don’t want to face the fear.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • ‌Tremors. You have small or severe shaking or small or severe movements in one or more parts of your body.
  • ‌Paresthesia, a burning or prickling sensation usually felt in your arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Diarrhea.
  • ‌Hot flashes or chills.
  • Feeling dryness in your mouth.
  • ‌Sense of confusion or disorientation, which is when a person feels confused about their location or what they’re doing.

Diagnosis

‌Your doctor will initially ask you a series of questions to collect information about your symptoms and fears. They will review your medical, psychiatric, and social history. They may also refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose the specific phobia. Your doctor will then plan your treatment based on your diagnosis.

Treatment Options

‌Some people who have a phobia may not need treatment because all they need to do is avoid whatever is causing the phobia. You should consult a doctor if this is something that is not easy to do or it starts to affect your social, work, or personal life. ‌

It may take some time to successfully treat ophidiophobia depending on how serious the condition is. But with treatment, upwards of 90% of people are able to successfully recover from a phobia. Psychotherapy in the form of exposure therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) together with medication, if needed, is found to be most effective for treating the condition. 

  • ‌Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy works by slowly increasing your exposure to the object of fear in stages until you're able to control the fear. The exposure therapy may start with the therapist talking about snakes, asking you to read about them, showing you pictures of snakes, arranging a visit to see snakes at a local zoo, and finally asking you to try holding snakes. All of this happens in stages and you move to the next level as your level of comfort increases.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Your doctor will work with you to learn new ways to view snakes and behave around them using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You will also learn practical ways to cope with your fear so you develop the confidence in your ability to deal with the fear.  
  • ‌Medication: Phobias can usually be resolved with talk therapy. Sometimes, your doctor may recommend medication on a short-term basis to help treat conditions like the anxiety you have as part of phobia. 
  • Lifestyle treatments: Your doctor may also suggest mindfulness techniques, meditation practices, or physical activity in the form of exercise to help you deal with anxiety and stress. 
WebMD Medical Reference

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