Chromophobia (Fear of Colors)
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What is chromophobia?
Chromophobia (or chromatophobia) is an intense fear of colors. Most people with this disorder are afraid of one or two colors in particular. Others have a phobia of all colors, or they may only be sensitive to bright colors.
People with chromophobia experience extreme discomfort or anxiety when they see a color that triggers their phobia. They may have trouble breathing, sweat a lot or even have a panic attack. Some people may avoid leaving their house and interacting with others. This can damage relationships and impact a person’s ability to work. Therapy and medications can help people manage this disorder.
What is a phobia?
Phobias cause people to be afraid of a situation or an object that isn’t harmful. They are a type of anxiety disorder. People with phobias have unrealistic fears and abnormal reactions to things other people don’t find scary.
Chromophobia is a specific phobia disorder. People with specific phobia disorders have extreme reactions to a certain object or situation. They go to great lengths to avoid the things that cause their discomfort or fear.
How common is chromophobia?
It’s hard knowing exactly how many people have a specific phobia, like chromophobia (fear of colors). Many people may keep this fear to themselves or may not recognize they have it. We do know that about 1 in 10 American adults and 1 in 5 teenagers will deal with a specific phobia disorder at some point in their lives, though.
What colors are people afraid of?
Although it’s possible to be afraid of all colors, people with chromophobia are more likely to be fearful or anxious about one or two colors in particular. Specific color phobias include:
- Chrysophobia, fear of the color orange or gold.
- Cyanophobia, fear of the color blue.
- Kastanophobia, fear of the color brown.
- Leukophobia, fear of the color white.
- Prasinophobia, fear of the color green.
- Rhodophobia, fear of the color pink.
- Melanophobia, fear of the color black.
- Xanthophobia, fear of the color yellow.
Symptoms and Causes
Who is at risk of chromophobia?
You have a higher risk of developing a chromophobia if you have:
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or sensory processing disorder.
- Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- History of panic attacks or panic disorder.
- Mental illness, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
- Mood disorders such as depression.
- Other phobias.
- Substance abuse disorder.
What causes chromophobia?
Healthcare providers aren’t sure what exactly causes chromophobia. Like other specific phobia disorders, it probably results from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. People who have mental illness or anxiety problems are more likely to develop a phobia. Mental illness, mood disorders and phobias tend to run in families, too. So, you have a higher risk of these conditions if you have a relative who has them.
Chromophobia and other types of phobias can happen along with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If someone experiences a traumatic event that they associate with a specific color, an intense fear of that color can result. They remember the terrible feelings the event caused and connect those feelings to the color itself. As a result, every time the person sees that color, the bad feelings return.
People with autism, Asperger’s or sensory processing issues sometimes have an aversion to one color in particular. Although they may not actually have chromophobia, their symptoms may be similar. They may prefer certain colors and avoid colors that disgust them or cause discomfort.
What are the symptoms of chromophobia?
Children and adults with chromophobia have symptoms ranging from intense discomfort to a full panic attack. When they see a color they’re afraid of, they may have:
- Dizziness and lightheadedness.
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
- Heart palpitations.
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
- Trembling or shaking.
- Upset stomach or indigestion (dyspepsia).
People with this disorder may stay indoors because they worry about coming into contact with the color that triggers the phobia. Their fear of colors can lead to another type of anxiety disorder called agoraphobia. This disorder causes people to avoid certain situations from which they can’t escape. They often stay inside their homes and away from crowded places.
Diagnosis and Tests
How do healthcare providers diagnose chromophobia?
Healthcare providers diagnose chromophobia and other types of phobias during a thorough mental health evaluation. Your healthcare provider will discuss your symptoms, when they started and what triggers them.
Your healthcare provider may recommend talking to a mental health professional over the course of several weeks. A healthcare provider who specializes in anxiety disorders will ask about other phobias, mental illness or mood disorders. They’ll also ask about your family history of phobias, anxiety disorders and other mental illness.
Generally, people receive a diagnosis of chromophobia or another specific phobic disorder if they:
- Experience extreme anxiety or panic attacks that last for six months or longer.
- Go to great lengths to avoid the situation or object that’s causing distress.
- Have symptoms that significantly impact their quality of life or damage relationships.
Management and Treatment
How do I manage or treat chromophobia?
Some therapies, techniques and treatments can help people with color phobia manage their symptoms. These include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help you think about your fears differently, gain a new perspective and control your response to them.
- Exposure therapy, which gradually increases your contact with certain colors. Your healthcare provider may show you certain colors for a few seconds at a time to lower your sensitivity.
- Hypnotherapy, which uses guided relaxation while you’re in a hypnotic (calm and responsive) state. During this time, your mind is more open to thinking about fears in a different way.
- Psychotherapy, which allows you to talk about your fears and find strategies that can help you overcome them.
- Medications, which can treat panic attacks and help manage other mental health disorders. Your healthcare provider may recommend anti-anxiety medications or medications to treat depression.
- Relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and meditation, which can help you control anxiety. You may also benefit from yoga and mindfulness exercises.
What are the complications of chromophobia?
Severe chromophobia can have a devastating impact on your overall quality of life. People with this disorder tend to avoid everyday activities. In doing so, they may harm relationships with friends and family — or lose their jobs. These losses can lead to social isolation, serious depression and worsening mental health.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have chromophobia?
Therapy and medication can help people with chromophobia manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Ongoing treatment may be necessary.
When should I see my healthcare provider about chromophobia?
Call your healthcare provider if you or your child experiences extreme discomfort or anxiety when exposed to certain colors. You should get an evaluation if symptoms are severe or if anxiety or panic attacks are impacting your daily life.
Remember that kids often have phobias growing up. They usually outgrow them or learn to manage them. If your child has a persistent fear of colors that affects their everyday life, call their healthcare provider.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
To understand chromophobia, you may want to ask:
- What could be the cause of chromophobia?
- What type of therapy or treatment is right for me?
- What experience do you have with CBT, exposure therapy and other types of therapy?
- How do I know if I’ll need short-term or long-term therapy?
- Does having a specific phobia disorder increase my chances of developing other anxiety disorders or mental illnesses?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you or your child has an extreme fear of colors, talk to your or their healthcare provider. In severe cases, chromophobia can cause people to avoid leaving home for fear of seeing a color that frightens them. Untreated, chromophobia can damage relationships and lead to trouble at work or school. Therapy, medications and other treatments (such as relaxation techniques) can help. Tell your healthcare provider if you or anyone in your family has a history of other phobias, mental illness or mood disorders.
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