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Claustrophobia is the fear of being in an enclosed space. It commonly causes an uncomfortable feeling or fear of losing control.

If you have felt uncomfortable or panicky in an confined space, you should talk to your doctor. Claustrophobia, like other anxiety disorders, is a treatable condition.

What is claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is a type of agoraphobia. People with agoraphobia are worried by situations where there’s no easy way to escape or get help if they become very anxious. Other types of agoraphobia involve a fear of public transport, of open spaces, of crowds and of being outside alone.

Claustrophobia is a very individual experience. Some people only feel mildly anxious when they are in a confined or crowded space. Others feel extremely anxious and can experience a panic attack.

Many situations can trigger claustrophobia including being in:

  • lifts
  • tunnels
  • trains and planes
  • crowded rooms or rooms with no windows
  • public toilets
  • cars with central locking
  • fitting rooms in shops
  • car washes

Other triggers include:

  • wearing tight clothing
  • using revolving doors

Panic attacks

It is common for people who are affected by claustrophobia to experience panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden, intense episode of fear. The physical and mental sensations can be overwhelming.

Common symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • a fear of losing control or fainting
  • feelings of doom and fear of dying
  • rapid thoughts making it harder to think clearly
  • rapid heart rate, rapid breathing rate or shortness of breath
  • sweating and trembling
  • feeling weak or dizzy
  • a choking sensation
  • hot flushes or chills
  • feeling confused, disorientated, or feeling detached from yourself
  • nausea

Not everyone with claustrophobia will have panic attacks.

How does claustrophobia affect people’s lives?

Claustrophobia can make people feel very uncomfortable and anxious in confined spaces. Panic attacks can be very frightening and they may be so intense that a person might try to avoid situations where an attack happened.

People with claustrophobia might change behaviour and routines because of the fear of having a panic attack. In severe cases, some people may not feel able to leave their home. If this happens, seek help.

How is claustrophobia treated?

If you have been diagnosed with a form of anxiety, such as claustrophobia, your doctor may first advise you try psychological treatment (talking therapies) such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Your doctor or psychiatrist might also prescribe medicine to manage some of the symptoms as part of your treatment.

Talk to your doctor about the various treatment options.

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Last reviewed: April 2020

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