Claustrophobia: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

It is the irrational fear of confined spaces.

The word “claustrophobia” is derived from two words, “Claustrum” (which means “closed” in Latin) and “Phobos,” which means “Fear” in Greek.

Claustrophobia is “abnormal, morbid, intense and irrational fear of confined, closed or narrow spaces.

The person suffers from claustrophobic panic when inside places like an elevator, a small room, a narrow street, etc.

The fear centers on not being able to escape or not having enough oxygen to breathe.

Causes of claustrophobia

Experts have not arrived at the exact factors that cause claustrophobia.

In general, it is believed that claustrophobia can be caused by a traumatic experience that involves confined spaces, such as being trapped in a closet.


When the person encounters similar situations after this experience, they often trigger panic attacks.

This is because a connection would be formed in the brain that associates closed spaces with anxiety. As a result of this association, the person becomes claustrophobic.

For example, if you were trapped in a confined space as a child, you may develop claustrophobia as an adult.

Sometimes children with a claustrophobic parent can become claustrophobic, associating confined spaces with adult anxiety and feeling powerless to help and comfort the person they love.

Many things can trigger this anxiety; these include:

  • The elevators.
  • The tunnels.
  • The subways.
  • The revolving doors.
  • The public toilets.
  • MRI scanner equipment.
  • Cars with central locking.
  • Closed areas for car washes.
  • Dressing rooms in stores.
  • Hotel rooms with sealed windows.
  • The airplanes.

If you have been anxious for the past six months about being in a confined or crowded space, or if you have avoided confined spaces and crowded places, for this reason, you are likely affected by claustrophobia.


When a person affected by claustrophobia is in a confined space, they may show some of the following symptoms:

Physical symptoms

Panic attacks are common among people with claustrophobia. In addition to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, a panic attack can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • Excessive perspiration.
  • Tremors
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Chest pain and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
  • A feeling of butterflies in the stomach.
  • Nausea
  • Headaches and dizziness.
  • Feeling faint
  • Numbness and a feeling of being pricked by pins and needles.
  • Feeling dry mouth.
  • The need to go to the bathroom.
  • Sounds in the ears.
  • Feeling confused or disoriented.

Psychological symptoms

People with severe claustrophobia can also experience psychological symptoms, such as:

  • The fear of losing control.
  • The fear of fainting.
  • The feelings of terror.
  • The fear of dying.

Claustrophobia diagnosis

Most people with a phobia know perfectly well that they have one.

Many people live with claustrophobia without being formally diagnosed and are very careful to avoid confined spaces.


Treatment for claustrophobia includes distraction, breathing, meditation, and relaxation therapies. These are strategies to avoid anxiety attacks or panic attacks.

Cognitive therapy behavior is often very effective for people with phobias and develops ways to deal with the phobia effectively.

Doctors generally use a combination of medications such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, exposure therapy (flooding, counter conditioning), regression hypnotherapy, and behavioral therapy.

Claustrophobia can be successfully treated and cured by gradually exposing yourself to fearful situations.

The patient, for his part, must face the phobia, if possible, and remain where he is during a panic attack. Moreover, never run to what he considers a safe place.

It would help if you remember that scary thoughts and feelings are signs of panic; they will eventually pass. It would help if you focused on something that is not threatening to you.

Symptoms of a panic attack generally peak within 10 minutes, and most attacks last between five minutes and half an hour.