Hydrophobia: Definition, Characteristics, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

It is literally an irrational fear of water, drinking or swimming.Someone who is afraid of water is hydrophobic.

Water is one of the few things necessary for all forms of life on the planet.

As a human being, water is important to us for hundreds of different reasons and is crucial in our way of life.

We need to ingest it to survive, we need it to bathe, and our bodies are composed of more than 55 percent water.

As a result, the fear of water seems almost impossible, but it exists and it can be incredibly dangerous to live with it.

Hydrophobia is an intense and irrational fear of water that can be diagnosed commonly in childhood and should be treated as soon as possible.

Certain types of hydrophobia can also appear in later stages of rabies contraction, which would require treatment immediately.

However, hydrophobia is not limited to the fear of being in the water, swimming or bathing.

Someone with this condition may be afraid of anything that has to do with water, including the use of faucets and showers.

Water is one of the most important elements of life and it is impossible to escape from it.

Hydrophobia can seriously affect the patient, as it can cause constant fear in their daily lives.


Hydrophobia is classified as a specific anxiety disorder according to the DSM-5 (the manual for the classification of mental disorders).

Specific phobias are disorders in which the patient feels an irrational and excessive fear towards something specific.

In the case of hydrophobia, the feared element is water. The individual will experience intense fear when exposed to it.

Hydrophobia has been classified as an anxiety condition due to the symptoms that appear when the patient comes into contact with the phobic stimulus.

In this disorder, when the individual is exposed to water, shows signs of anxiety.

Hydrophobia also includes two behavioral changes: evasion and denial tactics. The individual will constantly try to avoid contact with water. This is seen in specific situations.

For example, a hydrophobic will never go to the beach on a hot summer day, or go near a stream or river during a field trip.

However, avoiding it does not just stop there, it can be much more extreme.

Someone suffering from hydrophobia will try to avoid contact with water in many normal situations, such as using scrubbing water, taking a shower in the shower or using a hose to water the plants.

How to know if you have hydrophobia?

Humans, like other animals, are predisposed to contact with water.

Water is not usually directly associated with danger or damage. It is essential for the life of the planet and for the organisms that live in it.

However, not everyone likes water. Some people love places with water like the beach, rivers, lakes, swimming pools and showers. But there are also those who do not like those places.

For example, someone who does not know how to swim will probably feel anxious when in a place with lots of water.

They may also feel slightly nervous when they are on the beach or in a deep pool.

Such cases do not necessarily mean that a person suffers from hydrophobia. Hydrophobia is not only an aversion to water, it is much deeper than that.

To determine if someone suffers from hydrophobia or not, it is first necessary to analyze their fear. In general, phobic fear can be characterized as follows:


The fear of water is excessive compared to the real danger of the situation.

A person with this disorder can be very afraid in seemingly harmless situations, such as sitting in a jacuzzi or taking a shower.

Therefore, hydrophobia can be ruled out in cases where the individual has a justified and reasonable fear of water.

For example, someone who does not know how to swim may feel adaptive fear (non-phobic fear) to the water when in situations where knowing how to swim may be necessary.


An extreme fear of water that is completely irrational.

In other words, the patient can not justify why he is afraid of water. Nor can they explain what it is that causes the water to scare them so much.

The hydrophobic will be very afraid of water, unable to reason with their fear or explain why it exists.


The hydrophobic will be completely unable to control his fear.

When they are afraid, the patient’s thoughts and actions will be completely dominated by their fear, and they will not be able to control it.

This fear is completely irrational and inevitable.

Avoidance tactics

A phobic fear of water will be so intense that it will make the patient try to avoid the situation.

Someone suffering from hydrophobia will try to avoid water at all costs, even though such behavior can negatively affect their quality of life.

For someone with hydrophobia their main priority will be to avoid the anxiety they feel when they come into contact with water.


Hydrophobia is persistent when the fear of water does not only appear in certain situations or specific moments.

Hydrophobes are always afraid of water every time they come in contact with it. Then, if the condition is not treated properly, it can affect your entire life.


Since the earth is composed of approximately 70 percent water, it is easy to see why this fear can be very difficult to live.

If you notice common symptoms associated with hydrophobia, consider visiting a health professional to discuss the treatment options available to you.

Here are several situations in which a hydrophobic person may feel uncomfortable with:

  • Fear of drowning or submerging: even by irrational amounts of water.
  • Avoiding any and all situations in which a body of water may be present.
  • Avoid most liquids: not just water.
  • Stay away from liquid sources: such as sinks and showers.

Hydrophobia is an anxiety disorder and the main symptoms are anxiety.

This condition is serious and can lead to physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms. However, panic attacks are rare.

Physical symptoms

When a hydrophobe comes in contact with water, it experiences a series of symptoms. These symptoms cause changes in the functioning of the person. In particular, the activity of the central nervous system increases.

The physical symptoms of hydrophobia vary greatly in each person. However, the possible symptoms have been well studied.

Someone with hydrophobia will have some of the following symptoms when in contact with water:

  • Incrise of cardiac frecuency.
  • Increase of the respiratory frequence.
  • Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing.
  • General muscular tension.
  • Headache and / or stomach pain
  • Feelings of detachment from reality.
  • Dilation of pupil .
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting.

Cognitive symptoms

The physical symptoms that appear when someone with hydrophobia comes into contact with water are not temporary or isolated.

In other words, physical symptoms are not the only symptoms, they are accompanied by a series of cognitive changes.

These cognitive changes are those that generate negative thoughts when the hydrophobic is around water.

The cognitive symptoms are varied, but they are all similar, since they include catastrophic thoughts about what can happen when the person faces water.

The one who suffers also often has doubts about his ability (or inability) to face his fear.

These cognitive symptoms reinforce physical symptoms.

Physical symptoms in turn stimulate negative thoughts, and together they produce symptoms of anxiety.

Behavioral symptoms

Finally, as discussed above, hydrophobia significantly affects the patient’s behavior.

The two main behaviors that are seen as hydrophobic are avoidance and escape.

Evasion refers to all the behaviors that the patient develops in their daily lives to avoid contact with water.

These can be extreme and can greatly affect the functioning of the individual.

On the other hand, escape behaviors refer to behaviors that appear when the patient can not avoid stimulation.

In these cases, they will try to escape from the situation as soon as possible.

These behaviors have a direct relationship with the intensity of fear. If the individual is distressed when he is near water, he will try to avoid it whenever possible.

On the other hand, avoiding water only contributes more to the development of fear, so this behavior slows down any attempt to overcome the condition.


Hydrophobia can be a very dangerous and paralyzing disease that can cause serious mental problems and create social obstacles, such as the inability to bathe.

Hydrophobia can also be caused by rabies and can be noticed in the later stages of infection.

In the latter case, it is imperative that you visit a health professional immediately.

The causes of specific phobias have been well studied and documented. This has led to a general agreement among scientists that there is not a single factor that causes hydrophobia.

We have previously shown that this condition can be caused by a combination of different factors and the way they feed each other.

These factors can be more or less relevant depending on the specific case. They may not be relevant to everyone, or at least they may not be easily identifiable.

Classic conditioning

Classical conditioning is the most common cause for the development of a fear.

Having traumatic, dangerous or unpleasant experiences with water can be an important factor in the development of hydrophobia.

Vicar conditioning

Fears do not only develop through direct experience. They can be learned by viewing particular images or events.

Seeing negative events, such as seeing someone drown, or seeing images of tsunamis or other events in which water causes significant damage, can contribute to the development of a psychological disorder.

Verbal conditioning

Finally, hearing negative things about water can also lead to the development of a phobia.

Child education that focuses on the dangers of water or listening to the opinions of those who are afraid of water can condition an individual to develop this disorder.


Although only a few adults who suffer from hydrophobia bother to seek treatment, several effective methods have been demonstrated to deal with the fear of water.

If this fear is not addressed, it can develop and become even more intense over time.

While some may start by simply fearing entering the ocean or another body of water, fear may begin to find other ways to present themselves.

It is likely that these same patients will soon be afraid to bathe or consume any type of fluid, which would certainly begin to negatively affect their personal lives both socially and mentally.

The treatment of hydrophobia at a younger age can help to combat these aspects of fear and prevent fear from developing and disturbing in adulthood.

This condition can be treated and there are many effective treatments available.

The life of a hydrophobe can be significantly restricted as a result of its fear.

However, they can overcome this fear if they seek professional help and receive appropriate treatment.

The most effective treatment is psychotherapy.

In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) , which has high recovery rates and is considered to be the best treatment available.

This treatment is based on exposure, or rather, forces the individual to face their fear.

If the patient is shown water in a gradual and controlled way, in order to accustom him, eventually he will realize that he should not be afraid.

Hydrophobia and rabies

Rabies, also called hydrophobia or lyssa, is an acute, usually deadly, viral disease of the central nervous system that is usually spread between domestic dogs and wild carnivorous animals by a bite.

All warm-blooded animals, including humans, are susceptible to rabies infection.

The virus, a rhabdovirus, is often present in the salivary glands of rabid animals and is excreted in saliva; therefore, the bite of the infected animal introduces the virus into a fresh wound.

Under favorable conditions, the virus spreads along nerve tissue from the wound to the brain and is established in the central nervous system.

After a while, it spreads through the nerves to the salivary glands, where it often produces a foam formation in the mouth.

The disease develops more frequently between four and six weeks after infection, but the incubation period can vary from 10 days to eight months.

The rabies virus travels rapidly in a bitten animal (for example, raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, dogs and cats, among other smaller animals) from the bite to the central nervous system.

The disease often begins with the excitation of the central nervous system expressed as irritability and fatigue.

A rabid animal is more dangerous during the early stages of the disease because it appears to be healthy and may seem friendly, but will bite at the slightest provocation.

Wild animals that seem domesticated and that approach human persons or habitations during the day should be suspected of having rabies.

Infected dogs generally show a short excitement phase that is characterized by restlessness, nervousness, irritability and malignancy and is followed by depression and paralysis.

After a few days they can no longer bite because the muscles of the throat are paralyzed; they only seek a quiet place to hide and die because of the rapid spread of paralysis.

Sudden death without recognizable signs of disease is also not uncommon.

Dogs that develop the predominantly excited type of rabies invariably die from the infection, usually within three to five days after the onset of symptoms.

Those who develop the type of paralytic rabies without evidence of excitement or malice can recover on rare occasions.

The paralysis of the “voice” muscles in rabid dogs can produce a characteristic change in the sound of the cortex. The rage in humans is similar to that in animals.

Symptoms include depression , headache, nausea, seizures, anorexia, muscle stiffness and increased production of saliva.

Abnormal sensations, such as itching, around the exposure site are a common early symptom.

The muscles of the throat are paralyzed so that the person can not swallow or drink, and this leads to a fear of water (hydrophobia).

The mental state of a person infected with rabies varies from manic excitement to deaf apathy, the term “rage” means “madness,” but soon the person falls into a coma and usually dies in less than a week due to heart or respiratory failure.

Sometimes rabies is characterized by paralysis without evidence of excitation of the nervous system.

In such cases, the course of the disease may be prolonged to a week or more. There is no cure for rabies.

The incubation period (the time between the bite and the first symptom) is usually one to three months, but in rare cases it has been several years.

This provides the opportunity to interrupt the inevitable progress of the infection.

The bite should be washed immediately because much, if not all, of the virus can be removed.

The bitten patient should receive a dose of anti-rabies serum.

The serum is derived from horses or humans that have been immunized with attenuated rabies virus; provides the patient with antibodies already prepared against the rabies antigen.

Treatment is effective if administered within 24 hours after exposure, but has little value, if applicable, if administered three or more days after infection by rabies.

Active immunization with the rabies vaccine should also be initiated to allow the patient’s body to produce its own antibody.

The safest and most effective vaccines are the human diploid cell vaccine (HDCV), the cultivation of purified chicken embryos (PCEC) and the adsorbed rabies vaccine (RVA for short). English).

With older vaccines, at least 16 injections were required, while with HDCV, PCEC or RVA, 5 are generally sufficient.

Persons at risk of rabies by occupation (eg, veterinarians) or traveling to endemic areas should receive the rabies vaccine as a form of pre-exposure prophylaxis.