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Heliophobia is an irrational fear of sunlight, which should not be confused with photophobia, an increased sensitivity to light. Patients with heliophobia have an anxiety disorder that contributes to an intense fear or dislike of the sun, while photophobic patients have sensitive skin or eyes that make light hard to tolerate. One condition can be treated with psychotherapy and other psychological means, while the other may require medical care.
Like other phobias, heliophobia can have its origins in a number of different causes. Some patients may become afraid of light because they encounter information about skin cancer that worries or upsets them. Awareness information intended to educate people about the risks of prolonged sun exposure might be frightening, or patients might know people who developed skin cancer, which increases the fear that it might happen to them. Patients with conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder may start to develop an intense fear of sun exposure due to persistent obsessive thoughts about skin cancer and other sun damage.
Patients with this phobia may experience symptoms like sweating, headaches, and racing heart when they have to go out in the sun. This can also happen when they are put in positions where they might have to go in the sun; for example, the patient might worry about people ringing the bell during the day, as this could require opening the door and being exposed to the sun. This can contribute to the development of anxiety triggers which make the patient experience the symptoms of anxiety even when the object of the phobia is not present.
Psychotherapy can help patients understand the origins of their heliophobia, which might also allow them to tackle their irrational fear. Someone worried because his mother died of skin cancer, for example, could learn more about skin cancer statistics and safe limits for sun exposure. Therapists can also work with patients on techniques to control anxiety, including breathing exercises, medications, and guided imagery. Some may offer systematic desensitization therapy to make the object of the fear less frightening.
The irrationality of phobias can make them frustrating for friends and family. People with heliophobia may be teased or mocked, which can make the phobia more intense. Those pursuing therapy might want to talk to friends and family about how they can help. Supportive measures could include allowing someone to bring a shade umbrella to the beach without comment, for example, or asking before opening curtains or blinds.