Before we study Aquaphobia in depth, it is essential to clear the misconception between the terms Hydrophobia and Aquaphobia. Both these conditions are not the same: Hydrophobia is the term used to represent the fear of water developed in later stage of Rabies. Aquaphobia, on the other hand, is a social phobia that is defined as the persistent, unwarranted and irrational fear of water.
Many people have an extreme fear of water. They conjure up images of dying in water, drowning, gasping for breath, or encountering eerie, unseen things such as snakes or sharks in the water. Often, those suffering from Aquaphobia are non swimmers. Some phobics not only fear large water bodies, lakes, ponds or rivers, many even fear running water or water being poured onto their heads.
The fear of drowning is a rational and logical fear experienced by many who cannot swim. Aquahobic individuals, however, experience great deal of anxiety around all kinds of water bodies ranging from large oceans to small bathtubs. Some cannot even look at a photograph of the ocean without experiencing chills. Logically, few are aware that they will not ‘drown’ in a bathtub; but they are unable to control thoughts of death that come up in their minds.
Causes of Aquaphobia
Nearly 19.2 million Americans suffer from different specific phobias of which Aquaphobia is a type.
- The roots of this phobia can be traced to prior traumatic incidents with water, where one might have almost drowned, or was pushed into a water body as a prank, or fallen off a boat or deck. One might even have witnessed a traumatic event such as the drowning or death of a loved one in water.
- The fear of water can sometimes be learned from caregivers or parents: these adults might have given too many cautionary warnings to the child about going into or near the water. A parent who is afraid of water is likely to pass on the fear to the child. Stories, movies, incidents or news reports about drowning etc can also instill a deep sense of fear of water.
- People who are not used to water, such as ones who have grown up in sandy desert areas are more likely to develop Aquaphobia.
In general, people who are very anxious or high-strung all the time are likelier to develop Aquaphobia.
Symptoms of fear of water phobia
People with Aquaphobia tend to display following symptoms:
- They try to avoid water at all costs.
- They might experience anxiety or panic attacks at the thought of facing water.
- Sufferers of Aquaphobia often have poor hygiene as they avoid taking baths for long periods.
- At the sight of water, they start to hyperventilate; have higher blood pressure and heart rate or shallow breathing.
- They might faint or pass out at the sight of water
- Sweating, shaking, crying, trembling and other signs of loss of control are common in Aquaphobic individuals.
The symptoms vary based on the degree and extent of the phobia. Some patients are not even aware of their phobia and their mind unconsciously comes up with creative ways of avoiding water rather than facing embarrassment or experiencing emotional distress.
In many cases of Aquaphobia, individuals do not seek treatment since their daily life is not affected due to it. However, if the fear of water is affecting one’s social and recreational activities then one must find ways to reduce distress and overcome the avoidance of water.
- Exposure therapy is the first line of treatment for treating this phobia. This is of two types: in-vivo or virtual exposure. In either case, the individual is exposed to the fearful environment and learns to ‘unlearn his fear’ of water.
- In combination with exposure therapy, doctors often prescribe certain medications that can help the phobic relearn how to react to fears. SSRIs or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors can reduce panic attacks. Remember that: drugs do not have lasting effects and might have withdrawal symptoms. Hence, care must be taken to avoid long term use.
No two phobics are the same. Hence treatments for overcoming Aquaphobia are also bound to be different. Thankfully, one has many options and plenty of help is available today provided one seeks it.