What Is Aerophobia?

  • Anila vijayan Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine & Surgery, India

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Overview

Phobia is an anxiety disorder where there is severe fear or worry about certain activities, objects or situations. Anxiety makes it difficult for a person to get through the situation or day. Symptoms of anxiety are nervousness, fear, sweating and increased heart rate.

Aerophobia is also known as aviophobia, which involves an extreme fear of flying. Some even think flying is a stressful situation, and when combined with irrational fear and panic attacks this can lead to a dangerous situation. Some people who experience an extreme fear of flying usually avoid flying completely. The confined space, turbulence, and sensation during take-off and landing can cause extreme fear in people. Even if an individual understands their phobia is irrational, they may not be able to control it. 

Causes of aerophobia

Psychological factors

Past traumatic experiences

Some individuals may have had a scary flying experience, or by watching fellow plane passengers suffering from a panic attack, they developed a fear of flying.

General anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorder is a type of mental health condition where it goes beyond the regular nervousness and fear with physical signs of uneasiness such as sweating and increased heart rate. It is normal to have anxiety and feel nervous throughout daily life, for example, when you have to solve a problem at work, when you have an exam or interview to attend or have to make an important decision. In some cases, anxiety is helpful and even productive. However, severe anxiety makes the individual lack the ability to function, often losing control over their emotions and their response to certain situations.

Other phobias which make aerophobia worse

  1. Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces, which interferes with your daily life. Examples include being in tunnels, elevators, aeroplanes, and in enclosed spaces.1
  2. Agoraphobia: Fear of places or not being able to escape from a place if something goes wrong. People may even avoid leaving their houses, and avoid unfamiliar situations and new places.
  3. Acrophobia: Individuals experience fear of heights. People with acrophobia have extreme fear in situations involving heights, being in tall buildings and using ladders.
  4. Germaphobia/Mysophobia: Individuals with extreme fear of germs. They have an extreme fear of contamination, which alters their behaviour through their repetitive actions, similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  5. Anthropophobia: Fear of people. Individuals with anthropophobia will avoid crowds and fear eye contact because they feel they are being judged.
  1. Lack of control and uncertainty

Many individuals fear because of a lack of understanding of how aeroplanes work and function. Being enclosed in an aeroplane with no way to escape, the person lacks control over their own safety.

  1. Fear of crashes and accidents

People hearing traumatic or scary stories about flying or seeing pictures or videos of plane crashes may develop a fear of flying.

  1. Media influence and misconceptions

Persons with more media exposure, where the media shows plane crashes or incidents in an exaggerated or more traumatic and terrifying manner compared to other forms of transport; may develop a fear of flying.

Symptoms and effects

Physical symptoms

  • Excessive sweating: Excessive sweating of the body without any apparent reason. This condition makes them uncomfortable or embarrassed.
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness: It is a condition of lightheadedness, you may feel like sitting down before you fall down. Frequent or severe dizziness may affect normal lifestyle.
  • Chills: Chills are a sign of the body trying to regulate its temperature. We can get chills without fever.
  • Nausea: It is a feeling at the back of the throat or an uneasiness in the stomach.
  • Increased heartbeat: Heart palpitation occurs most commonly because of anxiety, where the person feels a pounding or increased heartbeat.
  • Shortness of breath: Dyspnoea is the feeling that you can’t get enough air into the lungs. It may feel tight in the chest.
  • Stomach upset or indigestion: Indigestion causes discomfort in your stomach after eating. There will be stomach ache or discomfort in the tummy after eating.

Psychological symptoms

  • Panic attacks: It is a sudden, intense feeling of fear which causes increased heart rate, shortness of breath and sweating.
  • Being unable to control fear or anxiety.
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance behaviour includes avoiding flying or going on holidays.
  • Fear of death, feeling like you are going to die.

Management and treatment

  1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT helps to change the way you think of flying. This includes learning about how the plane works and about the safety of air travel compared to other modes of transport. In this, they explain deep breathing during take off, turbulence, or the appearance of any anxiety symptoms to reduce fear.2
  2. Exposure therapy: In this therapy, they gradually expose the person to places related to air travel, like airports, where they can watch the takeoff and landing of planes. Virtual reality tools such as computer simulations of flight can also help in overcoming the fear of flying.3,4,5
  3. Hypnotherapy: Clinical hypnotherapy is a popular treatment used for treating phobias. In this technique, they use relaxation techniques and focus on the root cause of the fear and help to change the thought process and negative feelings about flying. In this, they also teach calming strategies such as deep breathing and relaxation techniques which help in reducing the symptoms and help to be calm while flying.
  4. Systematic desensitisation:  It is a therapy that uses classical conditioning principles. The goal of this therapy is to replace the fear response with a relaxation response. At first, the patient is taught relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, and then they are slowly exposed to a situation where they will practise the relaxation technique until they are comfortable. This continues until they become comfortable in the situation and overcome their fear.6
  5. Medication: Medicines are not given for aerophobia, but they are given to reduce the symptoms. The medications are anti-anxiety medications. Medications to reduce motion sickness and ear pain.
  6. Group therapy: Group therapy helps persons with a fear of flying without any underlying physical or mental health problems. Mostly in these sessions, they are able to meet the pilot and they explain about the planes and the safety measures taken.

Prevention

There is no particular way to prevent aerophobia, but certain therapies and changes in lifestyle can help to reduce the effects and fear of flying.7

  • Avoid things that make anxiety worse, such as watching videos and reading articles regarding plane crashes.
  • Self-education: Gaining knowledge about the flight, how it works, the safety precautions they are taking, and knowing about turbulence. All this helps them feel safe and overcome their irrational fears.
  • Practising relaxing techniques: Therapy helps calm down during the situation. Breathing techniques, virtual visualisation, and muscle relaxation techniques help to relax and decrease the symptoms.
  • Distracting technique: Self-studying the triggering movements helps in finding a way to distract yourself during the triggering situation. For example, listening to music, watching movies, and reading books helps to relax and get through the fear. 
  • Support system: Sharing about the fear of flying or anxiety about flying in support groups with family members and friends helps in mental support, which helps to deal with the anxiety.
  • Healthcare professional: Consulting a healthcare professional helps in identifying the phobia, the severity, and the diagnosis of the phobia. They can help in giving the correct way of treatment needed and overcoming the phobia.

FAQs

What are the symptoms of aerophobia?

Persons may have panic attacks before and during a flight, and common symptoms are : 

  • Chillness
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Indigestion

How do you calm aerophobia?

Aerophobia can be controlled or calmed by therapy and techniques like breathing exercises, visualisation techniques and relaxation methods. By following these therapy options, it helps in controlling the symptoms and overcoming the fear.

How to prevent aerophobia?

There is no way to prevent aerophobia, but you can reduce the symptoms and fear by following this:   

  • Avoiding things that make the anxiety worse, for example, watching videos or films regarding plane crashes.
  • Avoiding the usage of drugs and alcohol.
  • Sharing about the fear and anxiety in support groups or with family members or friends.
  • Consulting a healthcare professional, understanding the phobia and taking treatment.

When should I consult a doctor?

When there is difficulty in continuing normal life due to the fear of flying, it interferes with the ability to travel for work or pleasure.

Summary

Aerophobia is also known as aviophobia, which is an extreme fear of flying. Some even think flying is a stressful situation; when combined with panic attacks, it can lead to a dangerous situation. The confined space, turbulence, and sensation during take-off and landing can cause extreme fear in people. Even if an individual understands their phobia is extreme and unrealistic, they may not be able to control their fear. Even though flying is the safest and most reliable way of transportation, there are several aspects of flying which can cause aerophobia. There is no particular way to prevent aerophobia, but certain therapies and changes in lifestyle can help to reduce the effects and fear of flying.

References

  1. Vadakkan C, Siddiqui W. Claustrophobia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 [cited 2024 Mar 14]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542327/
  2. Triscari MT, Faraci P, Catalisano D, D’Angelo V, Urso V. Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy integrated with systematic desensitization, cognitive behavioral therapy combined with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy combined with virtual reality exposure therapy methods in the treatment of flight anxiety: a randomized trial. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat [Internet]. 2015 Oct 7 [cited 2024 Mar 14];11:2591–8. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4605250/
  3. Vincent C, Eberts M, Naik T, Gulick V, O’Hayer CV. Provider experiences of virtual reality in clinical treatment. PLoS One [Internet]. 2021 Oct 29 [cited 2024 Mar 14];16(10):e0259364. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8555834/
  4. Fehribach JR, Toffolo MBJ, Cornelisz I, Klaveren C van, Straten A van, Gelder JL van, et al. Virtual reality self-help treatment for aviophobia: protocol for a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Research Protocols [Internet]. 2021 Apr [cited 2024 Mar 14];10(4). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8076993/
  5. Azoum M, Clark GI, Rock AJ. The impact of affect labelling on responses to aversive flying-cues. PLoS One [Internet]. 2018 Apr 19 [cited 2024 Mar 14];13(4):e0194519. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5908089/
  6. Wittfoth D, Beise J, Manuel J, Bohne M, Wittfoth M. Bifocal emotion regulation through acupoint tapping in fear of flying. Neuroimage Clin [Internet]. 2022 Mar 30 [cited 2024 Mar 14];34:102996. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8980501/
  7. Abuso ABV, Hashmi M, Hashmi H, Khoo A, Parsaik A. Overcoming fear of flying: a combined approach of psychopharmacology and gradual exposure therapy. Cureus [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 14];15(5):e39773. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10312254/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Anila Viijayan

Bachelor of Homoeopathic Medicine & Surgery, India

A homoeopathic physician with a wealth of knowledge accumulated through rigorous education and extensive clinical experience. Beyond confines of clinic, have expertise in conducting seminars, writing insightful articles, and actively participating in medical communities. Additionally, possesses a comprehensive understanding of medical insurance processes and managing health clinic solely.

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