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Hydrophobia (fear of water): causes and treatment

Hydrophobia (fear of water): causes and treatment

May 18, 2023

One of the most frequent psychological disorders is the specific phobia; However, it is not necessarily incapacitating because people who suffer from it tend to avoid what causes them fear, or it is difficult to find it in their usual environment. However, not all phobic stimuli can be easily avoided.

In this article we will analyze the fear of water, also known as hydrophobia or aquaphobia . We will explain what it consists of, what its causes are and how the exposure is applied in vivo, the most effective treatment for specific phobias, in the case of hydrophobia.

  • Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"

What is hydrophobia?

Hydrophobia or aquaphobia is a specific type of phobia , that is, an anxiety disorder in which exposure to a specific stimulus causes intense fear and discomfort that induce the person to avoid and escape from the situation. In this case, the object of fear is water.

Within the specific phobias we find the environmental or natural subtype ; hydrophobia can be included within this category, along with fear of heights (acrophobia), darkness (nictofobia) or storms (astrafobia).

People with hydrophobia have different symptoms related to water avoidance. The most usual thing is that they have fear of drowning when swimming , but also they may not want to drink liquids or avoid taking a shower and bathe so as not to come in contact with water, especially if the phobia is very irrational.

Thus, the fear of water can interfere in the lives of those who suffer it in multiple ways. For example, people with hydrophobia who do not shower can have hygienic and social problems, and those who avoid drinking water can suffer from dehydration, which causes fatigue, pain and heart failure.

The most common is that the fear of water appears in childhood and remits spontaneously as the child grows. However, if the fear is very intense or persistent (and therefore meets the diagnostic criteria of the specific phobia) should consult with a specialist, since phobias tend to worsen over time.

  • Related article: "The 7 most common specific phobias"

Causes of fear of water

From psychology many hypotheses have been offered about the causes of specific phobias. At present, behavioral and cognitive-behavioral models predominate, although the evolutionary perspective has also made relevant contributions in this field.

The theory of Seligman's preparation He argues that, as our species evolved, humans consolidated through inheritance biological predispositions to associate certain stimuli and responses because they favored our survival.

In the case of hydrophobia, fearing water could have prevented drowning deaths, mainly. At present many people would preserve this "prepared association" to a greater or lesser extent, which would explain in part the different degrees of hydrophobia.

Whether or not there is a biological preparation, during our life we ​​can associate by classical conditioning Fear with any stimulus through anxiogenic experiences. Furthermore, if there is no exposure, these fears are intensified by negative reinforcement, as proposed by the model of the two factors of Mowrer.

However, it is also possible to acquire a phobia without a direct negative experience, but by observing or transmitting information . For example, a girl or boy might start to be afraid of water after seeing a person drowning in a movie or hearing a similar story.

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Rage and hydrophobia

It is very common for fear of water to appear in the advanced stages of rabies because the pharyngeal spasms characteristic of this disease cause pain when swallowing. In fact, sometimes the word "hydrophobia" is used as an alternative name for this disease.

Rabies is a viral disease that affects all mammals. Causes inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) that ends up killing the animal or person affected. At present, there are vaccines that allow to prevent and eliminate the rabies virus.

In this case the hydrophobia It arises as a natural consequence of physical symptoms of the disease, so it has characteristics different from those of psychogenic hydrophobia. The same applies to the fear of water produced by other organic causes.

Treatment of aquaphobia: live exposure

When hydrophobia is due to medical causes, correcting the condition usually causes the symptoms to subside.On the other hand, if the fear is explained by psychological factors, they would apply treatments for the specific phobia , based mainly on the technique of live exposure.

Live exposure consists of remaining close to the phobic stimulus (the object of fear) until the anxiety is reduced. Through this procedure the person learns to manage anxiety and checks that their fears are not met.

Usually Many exposure sessions are necessary : the practice on the part of the patient is one of the best predictors of the success of this treatment. The most usual thing is that they make hierarchies of phobic situations and progress from those that cause a slight fear to those that caused true panic at the beginning of the therapy.

Since most people with hydrophobia they fear falling into the water and drowning , the feared situations to which they should be exposed are usually related to staying close to the water and swimming, or learning to do so. In cases where fear is different, such as drowning, exposure situations may vary.

It is also likely that those who have this phobia interpret the normal sensations that appear when swimming, such as shortness of breath, as signs that their life is in danger. In these cases it may be advisable to use interoceptive exposure to physical sensations to facilitate cognitive restructuring.

Why does Rabies cause HYDROPHOBIA ? Mechanism Behind It (May 2023).

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