Fear of heights and visual height intolerance

Curr Opin Neurol. 2014 Feb;27(1):111-7. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0000000000000057.

Abstract

Purpose of review: The aim of this review is, first, to cover the different aspects of visual height intolerance such as historical descriptions, definition of terms, phenomenology of the condition, neurophysiological control of gaze, stance and locomotion, and therapy, and, second, to identify warranted epidemiological and experimental studies.

Recent findings: Vivid descriptions of fear of heights can be found in ancient texts from the Greek, Roman, and Chinese classics. The life-time prevalence of visual height intolerance is as high as 28% in the general population, and about 50% of those who are susceptible report an impact on quality of life. When exposed to heights, visual exploration by eye and head movements is restricted, and the velocity of locomotion is reduced. Therapy for fear of heights is dominated by the behavioral techniques applied during real or virtual reality exposure. Their efficacy might be facilitated by the administration of D-cycloserine or glucocorticoids.

Summary: Visual height intolerance has a considerable impact on daily life and interpersonal interactions. It is much more frequent than fear of heights, which is defined as an environmental subtype of a specific phobia. There is certainly a continuum stretching from acrophobia to a less-pronounced visual height intolerance, to which the categorical distinction of a specific phobia does not apply.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Perceptual Disorders / complications*
  • Phobic Disorders / complications*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*

Supplementary concepts

  • Phobia, Specific