In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan.


A phobia is a fear which causes significant impairment in a person's ability to live everyday life. An example of life impairment is avoiding the feared object or scenario. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are many categories of anxiety disorders. These include separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, selective mutism, and specific phobias. The specific phobias can further subdivide into animal, natural/environmental, situational, and blood injection injury types. Specific phobias are an extreme fear of certain activities, persons, objects, or situations.

Claustrophobia is a specific phobia where one fears closed spaces (claustro means closed). Examples of closed spaces are engine rooms, small or locked rooms, cellars, tunnels, elevators, MRI machines, subway trains, crowded places, etc. Those with specific phobias generally will report avoidance behaviors regarding the particular object or situation that triggers their fear. The fear can be expressed as a danger of harm, disgust, or experience of physical symptoms in a phobic scenario. It can be unpleasant and distressful; however, most patients find ways to cope by avoiding small or enclosed places. People who react to one of the trigger situations potentially respond to them all. Fear of being trapped, for instance, waiting in a long queue or sitting in a dentist's chair, is also regarded as a sign of claustrophobia.

Claustrophobic people are not frightened of enclosed spaces per se but of what could happen in the enclosed space. As agoraphobia is increasingly being recognized as a fear of what might unfold in a public place, such as having a panic attack, claustrophobia can also be regarded in this manner—a subjective sense of being trapped features in the accounts of most claustrophobic people. Most closed places entail some level of entrapment along with a restriction of movement. Animals certainly, and people potentially, are vulnerable "in situations of confined space"; experimental neuroses are easily induced when an animal is put in a confined environment.

Fear of suffocation concerns claustrophobic people. This extraordinarily intense and expected component of claustrophobia is interpreted as a grave threat by claustrophobic people. Many claustrophobic people experience a fear of suffocation when in an enclosed space which is closely associated with the sensation of shortness of breath.

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