Claustrophobia - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Contributed by : Asha Lalwani, Ravina Sewani   
Claustrophobia - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Claustrophobia is the fear of closed spaces.

Claustrophobia is the fear of closed spaces. This can be experienced in an elevator, small rooms without window, caves, cellars, small closed cars and sometimes tight – neck covered clothing. If you know the child is claustrophobic do not tease the child in panic situations.


Calustrophobia may be caused due to a traumatic event in early years of childhood. These event(s) could be:

  • Child getting locked in dark room unable to find door
  • Child crawling into a hole and getting stuck
  • Child locked in a closet
  • Child left alone in car or van
  • Child with clautrophobic parent(s)
  • Child who was bullied or abused


People affected by claustrophobia will often go out of their way to avoid confined spaces, such as lifts, tunnels, tube trains and public toilets. But avoiding these places may reinforce the fear.

Some people with claustrophobia experience mild anxiety when in a confined space, while others have severe anxiety or a panic attack. The most common experience is a feeling or fear of losing control.

Some common triggers are:

  • Lifts
  • Tunnels
  • Tube trains
  • Revolving doors
  • Public toilets
  • Cars with central locking
  • Car washes
  • Shop changing rooms
  • Hotel rooms with sealed windows
  • Planes

Physical Symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Hot flushes or chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • A choking sensation
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Numbness or pins and needles
  • A dry mouth 
  • A need to go to the toilet
  • Ringing your ears
  • Nausea

Psychological symptoms:

  • Feeling out of touch with reality or detached from your body
  • Fear of fainting
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of dying


  • A mental health expert can diagnose phobia; keep a regular track of your child’s behaviour/health in particular situations and with objects.
  • Phobia diagnosis is based on diagnostic guidelines and a thorough clinical interview. If you feel that your child has a phobia, take him/her to a healthcare expert. Your child's doctor will either ask you or your child about the symptoms. The doctor might also take a medical, psychiatric, and family history.
  • Your child's doctor might also use the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


  • Exposure therapy: In this method, your child will be exposed to the situations that frighten him/her. This is done to help a child get over his/her fear. The situations that trigger the fear or phobia are gradually intensified. For example, at first, your child might be asked to just look at a photo of a tight space. Then, with the help of your child's therapist, your child will be worked up to being inside a tight space. Mind well, this method should be used in the presence of a mental healthcare expert as this can trigger intense panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This is a type of talk therapy where your child can meet with a trained therapist one-on-one. The child will be encouraged to talk the negative thoughts that drive his/her fear and learn ways to overcome them. Your child may get CBT alone or combined with exposure therapy.
  • Virtual reality (VR): It's a treatment that uses computer simulations of tight spaces like elevators or MRI machines. Getting the experience of a tight space in the virtual world can help your child get over his/her fear in a setting that feels safe.
  • Modelling: In this method the child sees other person facing a closed space situation without any fear or panic.
  • Medicines like tranquillisers and antidepressants (prescribed by a doctor) can be helpful along with the above treatments.

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