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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.

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.

There are many situations that can trigger claustrophobia. Some of them are:

  • lifts
  • tunnels
  • trains
  • crowded rooms
  • revolving doors
  • public toilets
  • cars with central locking
  • car washes
  • changing rooms in shops
  • rooms with no windows
  • planes
  • tight clothing

If you have felt uncomfortable or panicky in a confined space recently, you should talk to your doctor. You might be affected by claustrophobia. Claustrophobia, like other anxiety disorders, is a treatable condition.

What are the symptoms of claustrophobia?

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
  • a 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

Almost half of all Australians will suffer a panic attack at some time in their lives.

How does claustrophobia affect people’s lives?

Claustrophobia can make you feel very uncomfortable and anxious in confined spaces. Panic attacks can be very frightening and they may be so intense that you might feel like avoiding situations where an attack happened.

You might change your routines because you fear that you might have 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, then your doctor may first advise you try psychological treatment 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: March 2018

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