Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias in the population. More intense than a simple dizziness, it results in an excessive and irrational fear of heights and emptiness in the absence of any real danger. This phobia can affect anyone, anytime. 

When it becomes disabling on a daily basis and limits the patient’s leisure activities and social interactions, a medical consultation is required. The doctor will then decide on a case-by-case basis on the relevance of psychotherapy and its nature.

What is a phobia?

Usually, fear is a useful emotion that helps protect us by causing us to act or flee in the face of danger. Each individual has fears such as preferring the stairs to the elevator, being anxious before taking the plane, etc. In the majority of cases, everyone lives with their fears and comes to terms with them.

On the other hand, when the fear takes disproportionate proportions or significantly impacts the life of a person without reasonable cause (monopolizing their thoughts, influencing their choices, etc.), then it becomes pathological. We thus talk of a phobia.

In other words, a phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of a generally harmless object, animal, or situation. The person suffering from a phobia is fully aware that their fear is irrational and excessive, without, however, being able to resist the need to avoid the object of their phobia.

A phobia is considered serious and requires care when the latter forces the individual suffering from it to restrict their activities and significantly impact their quality of life.

What is acrophobia?

Acrophobia can be described as an extreme and irrational fear of heights. It can occur, for example, when the patient is:

  • is climbing a ladder;
  • is changing a light bulb on the ceiling;
  • getting on a balcony;
  • climbing a mountain;
  • etc…

This uncontrolled and irrational fear of height results in a feeling of dizziness, nausea, shaky legs, etc. It is estimated that 7.5 percent of the population suffers from it.

Note that some acrophobes are capable of having a crisis and feeling various symptoms by proxy, in other words when they see another person in a situation they deem at risk.

What causes it?

In general, education, as well as the family environment, seem to play an important role in the appearance of phobias. Indeed, although the existence of genetic factors has not been demonstrated, a phobic parent can unintentionally transmit a certain emotional vulnerability to their child which can predispose them to certain phobias.

Phobias are most often related to a traumatic event (real or fantasized) in childhood. It is therefore easy to understand that a child bitten by a dog in his childhood may more easily than another develop a phobia of dogs. This type of phobia is more common in children and usually goes away after the teenage years. 

When it manifests itself in adulthood, the phobia generally subsides over time thanks to avoidance strategies put in place by the patient or the help of a psychotherapist. Acrophobia can thus be linked to a bad past experience, for example, a fall experienced by the patient himself or of which he was the witness or the instigator.

Another theory is that acrophobia is a holdover from our ancestors. This fear would have contributed for a time to protect human beings and promote their adaptation to the environment.

What are the symptoms acrophobia?

Patients suffering from acrophobia suffer from recurrent and unpredictable panic attacks. The crisis manifests itself in various symptoms:

  • Palpitations;
  • Transpiration;
  • Sensation of heat;
  • Dizziness, vertigo;
  • Tremors;
  • Intense fear of dying, losing control or going mad.

The phobia attack can be more or less intense depending on the situation and the patient. It can last between 20 and 30 minutes.

Acrophobic patients then have an avoidance behavior towards risky situations or places, because they fear reliving a panic attack. These avoidance mechanisms are characteristic of phobic patients in general, and allow the doctor to establish their diagnosis.

Betsy Wilson

Betsy is a true science nerd, down to the glasses. Her words, not mine! She works as a nurse specializing in pediatric nursing. She holds a Master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about all thing pregnancy and baby-related.