Acrophobia is a term that refers to the extreme and irrational fear of heights. This condition is often confused with aerophobia, which is similar, as it involves great heights, but it includes the fear of flying, as a more generalized phobia. The word acrophobia is derived from Greek language where ákron means "peak” and phóbos means "fear". People suffering from this condition usually experience panic attacks when they are at a high place. This is one of the most common types of phobia. It affects between 2 and 5 percent of the worldwide population.
Symptoms of the phobia of heights
Phobia of heights usually manifests as a sense of extreme and uncontrollable panic when at a height. Sometimes, people may experience vertigo, which is a sensation of spinning that occurs when one is not actually spinning. Very often, phobia of heights is confused with vertigo, but these are different things. Vertigo occurs because of a dysfunction of the vestibular system in the inner ear, and it typically does not have anything to do with fear of the heights, but with the balance centers of the brain. People suffering from phobia of heights will feel very anxious and may find it difficult to remain balanced. They will most typically start searching for something to lean on, or try to ground the body by lowering on all fours.
Physical and symptoms may include shaking, increased perspiration, fast heartbeats, confusion, mood changes, and shortness of the breath, feeling of choking, and numbness or tingling sensations.
Causes of the phobia of heights
Like any other type of phobia, the phobia of heights is most probably caused by certain traumatic experiences involving heights. To the certain extent, fear of heights is a part of an evolutionary survival mechanism.
Treatment for the phobia of heights
Phobia of heights is not a dangerous condition, but it may severely limit one’s life and activities and lead to many unpleasant experiences. Even in a safe environment on the high altitudes, a person can make unsafe moves and endanger the life as a result of extreme panicking.
Treatment is highly recommended and there are number of different approaches available. The main treatment option is a cognitive-behavioral therapy.
One of the best treatment techniques is to expose the subject to the feared situation either gradually or rapidly. The goal of this approach is to help the subject regain emotional control in the risky situation. Modern technologies have enabled a special kind of treatment: the one that relies on the virtual reality. However, this treatment is yet to be readily available.