Nosocomephobia (Fear of Hospitals)

Overview

What is nosocomephobia?

Nosocomephobia is an intense, overwhelming fear of hospitals. The condition is a specific phobia (fear), which is similar to anxiety disorder.

Many people are uncomfortable in hospitals. Hospitals are often associated with illness, pain and death. But most people can overlook those negative associations and visit a hospital when they need to.

People with nosocomephobia are overwhelmed by the fear. They might:

  • Avoid hospitals, even when they need medical attention.
  • Get extremely nervous when they merely think about hospitals.
  • Panic when faced with the possibility of going to a hospital, even to visit someone else.
  • Regret not visiting a loved one in the hospital due to their fear.
  • Worry excessively about the possibility of having to go to a hospital.

How can nosocomephobia impact daily life?

Nosocomephobia can have a negative impact on physical and emotional health. It can cause symptoms of extreme fear. It may stop you from getting the medical care you need. It can also prevent you from visiting ill loved ones, which can have lasting emotional effects.

Like all phobias, people with nosocomephobia may understand that the feelings are irrational, but not be able to control them.

How common is nosocomephobia?

Nosocomephobia, like acrophobia (fear of heights) and aerophobia (fear of flying), is more common than some other phobias. It can affect people of any age, starting in childhood or adulthood.

Are there different types of nosocomephobia?

Nosocomephobia may be related to other specific phobias associated with hospitals and healthcare, including:

  • Agliophobia, fear of pain.
  • Carcinophobia, fear of cancer.
  • Claustrophobia, fear of enclosed spaces, such as small exam rooms or medical tests that require confinement.
  • Hemophobia, fear of blood.
  • Iatrophobia, fear of doctors.
  • Mysophobia, fear of germs.
  • Nosophobia, fear of disease.
  • Tomophobia, fear of surgery.
  • Pharmacophobia, fear of medicines.
  • Thanatophobia, fear of death.
  • Trypanophobia, fear of needles.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a fear of hospitals?

Mental health professionals aren’t sure what causes specific phobias like nosocomephobia. But it may be related to:

  • Genetics: Some people have a family history of anxiety and specific fears.
  • Traumatic experiences associated with hospitals: You may develop nosocomephobia after a traumatic experience in a hospital. Examples include being very sick or seriously injured as a child or seeing a loved one die in a hospital.
  • Other fears: Nosocomephobia may develop when you have fears about other things related to hospitals. Examples include negative feelings about nudity, germs, blood and needles.
  • Media portrayal of hospitals: Movies and news reports often associate hospitals with danger, disaster, medical errors and other scary situations.
  • Sensory issues: Nosocomephobia may develop in a person with a particularly strong sense of smell. For example, they may be oversensitive to the smell of antiseptics, bedpans, vomit or human waste.

What are the symptoms of a hospital phobia?

A person with nosocomephobia may experience symptoms of anxiety or panic when they think about, see or visit a hospital. A mild fear of doctors is called “white coat syndrome.” This occurs when a person’s blood pressure rises around healthcare providers or in medical facilities.

Full-on nosocomephobia may cause:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is nosocomephobia diagnosed?

Many people are uncomfortable in hospitals. But nosocomephobia is an intense, overwhelming fear that affects your behavior and decisions. If you think you may have a phobia, talk to your healthcare provider or mental health specialist.

Although no tests can diagnose nosocomephobia, a healthcare provider can diagnose a specific phobia based on discussions with you about:

  • Symptoms.
  • How long they’ve been happening.
  • Whether they’re interfering in your life.

Diagnosis depends on whether your fear:

  • Causes extreme anxiety.
  • Leads to significant stress or affects your daily life.
  • Has been happening for at least six months.
  • Is out of proportion with any actual danger.
  • Makes you avoid hospitals, even if you want or need to visit one.
  • Produces physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks.

Management and Treatment

What are the treatments for nosocomephobia?

People with mild nosocomephobia may not need treatment. But the fear can cause symptoms, interfere with medical care or stop you from visiting ill loved ones. So, some people need help facing this fear.

Nosocomephobia treatment may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is structured psychotherapy that can help you understand and control thoughts and emotions. A therapist talks with you to uncover why you think, feel and behave the way you do. Over time, CBT can help you unlearn negative thoughts associated with hospitals.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy, sometimes called desensitization, helps you confront your fears gradually. A person with nosocomephobia is exposed to the idea of hospitals over time in a controlled environment. Therapy starts with something less scary, like a photo of a hospital. Eventually, you might go near a hospital, then into one. With increasing exposure, you can learn to manage nosocomephobia.
  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy can put you in a trance-like but focused state. Under hypnosis, you’re more open to suggestion and change. A hypnotist may be able to convince a hypnotized person that they’re less afraid of hospitals.
  • Medications: A variety of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications can help lessen the symptoms of anxiety or depression. These drugs aren’t a cure for nosocomephobia. But anti-anxiety medications may be able to help you cope when you absolutely must go to a hospital. Examples include going to the hospital to visit a loved one or getting an important medical procedure.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of nosocomephobia?

Mental health professionals don’t fully understand the causes of specific phobias like nosocomephobia, so there’s no proven way to prevent it.

However, if you have a phobia, you may develop or already have other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to manage any symptoms of your first anxiety disorder to prevent others.

You may be able to lower your risk of nosocomephobia by:

  • Limiting alcohol and recreational drug consumption.
  • Lowering stress during everyday activities, like working.
  • Quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco use.
  • Spending time with loved ones.
  • Taking up a new hobby to take your mind off the phobia.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can nosocomephobia be cured?

There’s no cure for nosocomephobia, but therapy helps the majority of people who practice it regularly.

Living With

How can I best learn to cope with a fear of hospitals?

Most people have to visit a doctor’s office or hospital at some point in their life. Certain strategies can help you manage the fear and anxiety so you can go to a hospital when necessary. It might help to:

  • Choose facilities that are less intimidating. Many newer hospitals have been designed to be more calming and comfortable.
  • Plan ahead if you have to get a test or procedure. Ask someone to go with you for support. Pack familiar, comforting items that will make you feel more at home. Take things that can help distract you, such as books and games.
  • Practice simple techniques to relax, such as meditation, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Focusing on specific senses may help you relax, too. For example, concentrate on the way it feels to touch a comforting item like a soft sweater. Or eat a favorite food and concentrate on the way it tastes.
  • Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume. Caffeine can make anxiety more intense.
  • Talk to a loved one or trusted healthcare provider about your fear.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Nosocomephobia is an anxiety disorder that involves an intense, overwhelming fear of hospitals. It can cause symptoms of extreme anxiety or fear and prevent you from getting the medical care you need. Working with a therapist and practicing techniques to manage anxiety can help.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/15/2022.

References

  • Merck Manual [Consumer Version]. Specific Phobic Disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/specific-phobic-disorders) Accessed 2/15/2022.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia) Accessed 2/15/2022.
  • Satterfield JM, Feldman MD. Anxiety. In: Behavioral Medicine: A Guide for Clinical Practice. (https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2747&sectionid=230250803) 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2021.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. DSM-IV to DSM-5 Specific Phobia Comparison. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t11/) Accessed 2/15/2022.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy