Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an irrational fear of enclosed or small spaces, says the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. A claustrophobic patient does not fear being in closed spaces, but the negative consequences of being in that place. Some of these feared consequences might include restriction, entrapment and suffocation. A claustrophobic patient may have a panic attack when forced to be in a small, enclosed space.
Fear of Small Places
Most closed spaces entail a degree of entrapment. Some claustrophobic patients are afraid of all tight or small places while others only fear one particular kind of place. The most typical ones include cars, trains, airplanes, elevators, small rooms, cellars, caves, crowded areas, and tunnels. Claustrophobic patients also often refuse to go through such medical imaging tests as MRI that forces them to remain in a tight place for a relatively long period of time. The fear of restriction can cause some claustrophobics to be fearful of certain everyday situations like the barber’s chairs or waiting in lines because they see the situation as confining.
Fear of Restricted Movements
Many claustrophobics are afraid of situations in which their movements are restricted. This may be true even in a situation where there is lots of space around the person. A claustrophobic patient might be afraid of rollercoaster rides because he cannot move in the seat. In the same manner, a claustrophobic might be afraid of crowds because the people there prevent him from running or moving fast. This condition may be so severe that a patient refuses to wear a cast after they broke a bone.
Fear of Suffocation
Many people who are afraid of being restricted to small places also fear suffocation. These patients may believe that there isn’t enough oxygen in the room in which they are confined to. Many claustrophobics remove items of clothing during panic attacks since they believe that this would make it easier for them to breathe. Some claustrophobic are not able to dive because they are afraid of suffocation and may remove diving masks even if they are under the water.
Is This an Emergency?
- Better Health Channel: Claustrophobia
- American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision: 2000; Washington, DC.
- Native Remedies: Claustrophobia
- Neuropsychiatric Disease Treatment: Prevalence of claustrophobia and magnetic resonance imaging after coronary artery bypass graft surgery
- Jornal of Hand Surgery American: Intolerance of short arm cast wear by patients with claustrophobia: case report.