Hydrophobia: Definition, Characteristics, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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

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

As human beings, water is essential 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 hazardous 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 faucets and showers.

Water is one of the essential 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 of 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.

When the individual is exposed to water, this disorder 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 near a stream or river during a field trip.

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

Someone who has hydrophobia will try to avoid contact with water in many everyday situations, such as 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 planet’s life 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 some 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 has hydrophobia. Hydrophobia is not only an aversion to water; it is much deeper than that.

To determine if someone has hydrophobia or not, it is first necessary to analyze their fear. In general, phobic anxiety 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 terrified 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 is entirely irrational.

In other words, the patient can not justify why he is afraid of water. Nor can they explain what 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 entirely dominated by their fear, and they will not be able to control it.

This fear is entirely 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 with 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 encounter 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 contact it. Then, if the condition is not treated correctly, 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 brutal to live.

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

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

  • Fear of drowning or submerging: even by ludicrous amounts of water.
  • Avoid any problems 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 severe and can lead to physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. However, panic attacks are rare.

Physical symptoms

When a hydrophobe comes into contact with water, it experiences 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 significantly in each person. However, the possible signs have been well studied.

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

  • Incrise of cardiac frecuency.
  • Increase the respiratory frequency.
  • Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing.
  • General muscular tension.
  • Headache and stomach pain
  • Feelings of detachment from reality.
  • Dilation of the 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 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 the water.

The one who also suffers 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 patient develops in their daily lives to avoid contact with water.

These can be extreme and can significantly 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 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 hazardous and paralyzing disease that can cause severe 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, you must 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 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 apply to everyone, or they may not be easily identifiable.

Classic conditioning

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

Having traumatic, dangerous, or unpleasant experiences with water can be an essential factor in developing hydrophobia.

Vicar conditioning

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

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

Verbal conditioning

Finally, hearing negative things about water can also lead to developing 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 have 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 itself.

Likely, these same patients will soon be afraid to bathe or consume any fluid, negatively affecting their personal lives both socially and mentally.

The treatment of hydrophobia at a younger age can help 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 due to 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) has high recovery rates and is considered 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 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 generally 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 infected animal’s bite introduces the virus into a fresh wound.

Under favorable conditions, the virus spreads along with 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 tame and approach human persons or habitations during the day should be suspected of having rabies.

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

After a few days, they can no longer bite because the throat muscles 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 exciting type of rabies invariably die from the infection, usually within three to five days after symptoms.

Those who develop 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 saliva production.

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

The throat muscles are paralyzed so that the person can not swallow or drink, which 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; it 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 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 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 five are generally sufficient with HDCV, PCEC, or RVA.

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