Ophidiophobia (Fear of Snakes)
What is ophidiophobia?
Ophidiophobia is an extreme, overwhelming fear of snakes. The condition is called a specific phobia (fear), which is a type of anxiety disorder. Ophidiophobia may be associated with herpetophobia, which is fear of all reptiles.
Many people are somewhat fearful of snakes. But ophidiophobia is so extreme that it interferes with a person’s life, well-being or sense of safety.
Ophidiophobes (people who have the phobia) may:
- Act strangely in social, educational or professional activities because of the phobia.
- Avoid friends’ homes, pet stores, zoos and other places where snakes may be.
- Have a panic attack when they see or hear something that might be a snake (like a rope or a hiss).
- Have intense anxiety at the mere mention of a snake.
- Take extreme action to avoid snakes, such as choosing where to live or refusing to go outdoors.
A person with ophidiophobia may understand that the fear is excessive but can’t control it.
How common is an intense fear of snakes?
Snakes can be harmful to people, and stories often depict snakes as threatening and dangerous. So, a generalized fear of snakes is very common. One in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, and ophidiophobia is one of the most common specific phobias.
Ophidiophobia can affect people of any age, starting in childhood or adulthood.
Are there other fears related to ophidiophobia?
People with a fear of snakes may also have related phobias, including:
- Herpetophobia, or fear of reptiles in general.
- Ranidaphobia, fear of frogs.
- Thanatophobia, fear of death, which some may associate with snake bites
Symptoms and Causes
What causes a fear of snakes?
Healthcare providers aren’t sure what causes specific phobias, such as ophidiophobia. But most mental health professionals believe it’s often caused by some combination of:
- Genetics: Some people have a family history of anxiety disorders and specific fears.
- Learned behavior: A person is more likely to develop ophidiophobia if a close friend or relative had an intense fear of snakes.
- Superstitions and cultural meanings: Many stories and cultural beliefs contribute to ophidiophobia. For example, snakes are often associated with lies, evil, temptation and paganism. Examples include Medusa of Greek mythology, who had snakes for hair and turned people to stone, and the snake in the Garden of Eden.
- Traumatic experiences associated with snakes: People may develop ophidiophobia after being bitten by a snake or seeing a scary movie involving a snake attack.
What are the symptoms of snake phobia?
A person with ophidiophobia will experience symptoms of anxiety or panic when they:
- Encounter a snake.
- Hear a noise they think could be a snake.
- Hear someone talk about a snake.
- See a picture of a snake, even a cartoon version.
- Think about snakes.
Symptoms of anxiety or panic may include.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is ophidiophobia diagnosed?
There aren’t any tests to diagnose ophidiophobia. Your healthcare provider can diagnose the condition based on discussions with you about:
- Your symptoms.
- How long they’ve been happening.
- Whether they’re interfering in your life.
Ophidiophobia is a specific diagnosis and goes beyond generalized fear of snakes. It:
- Causes extreme anxiety as soon as you think about or encounter a snake.
- Leads to significant stress or affects your daily life.
- Has been happening for at least six months.
- Is out of proportion with the actual danger.
- Makes you avoid specific situations.
- Produces physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks.
Management and Treatment
How do I get over a fear of snakes?
If you have mild ophidiophobia, you may not need treatment. But if the fear causes physical symptoms or nightmares, or if it interferes with your daily life, possible treatments include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is structured psychotherapy that can help you understand and control thoughts and emotions. This talk therapy can help you unlearn negative thoughts that happen when you think about snakes.
- Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy, sometimes called desensitization, helps you gradually confront your fears. You’re exposed to the idea of snakes over time in a controlled environment. For example, exposure therapy may start with something less scary, like a picture of a cartoon snake. Eventually, you might be asked to imagine a real snake or look at a live snake in a cage. Through increasing exposure, you may learn to manage ophidiophobia.
- 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 you that you’re less afraid of snakes.
- Medications: A variety of anti-anxiety medications can lessen anxiety and physical symptoms of anxiety. They can be helpful in certain situations for people who have ophidiophobia. For example, they can ease anxiety so you can attend an outdoor wedding or go camping with your kids.
How can I reduce my risk of ophidiophobia?
There’s no proven way to prevent a snake phobia. But many people with one specific fear develop multiple anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
It’s important to learn how to manage any symptoms of the first fear before you develop additional anxieties.
Outlook / Prognosis
Can ophidiophobia be cured?
Children and adolescents may grow out of ophidiophobia. But the fear may persist into adulthood.
Ophidiophobia can’t be cured, but you can manage the fear and the symptoms. Exposure therapy and other techniques are very effective. Treatment helps most people who regularly practice what they’ve learned or take medications as directed.
How can I best learn to cope with a fear of snakes?
Many people can manage ophidiophobia and other specific fears with techniques to manage anxiety, such as:
- Breathing exercises.
- Muscle relaxation.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many people are afraid of snakes. But ophidiophobia is an extreme, overwhelming fear of snakes that interferes with your sense of safety and daily life. Ophidiophobia is a common specific phobia, but there are treatments, like exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, that can help you manage symptoms.
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