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Ophidiophobia is a fear of snakes that extends beyond encounters with the actual reptiles. An ophidiophobiac is not merely afraid of potential harm that can result from encounters with snakes, but is also disturbed by images and thoughts of them as well. The difference between a rational fear of snakes and a more primal phobia can often be demonstrated by the behavior of a sufferer at a zoo.
A person who is afraid of snakes because they are dangerous will have no fear when separated from the snake by glass, whereas the person with a phobia will be terrified even when no physical harm can come to them. This is an important distinction because general fear of snakes is widespread, whereas true ophidiophobia is somewhat uncommon in the general population.
A person suffering from ophidiophobia may experience any number of symptoms when confronted with a snake or its likeness. Nausea, panic attacks, and crying are all common reactions. Some people experience less dramatic reactions when confronted with drawn representations of snakes and only feel true terror when seeing video or live snakes. The exact way in which a person's fear manifests itself is highly individual, and some people have more control over their emotions than others.
Among the different types of phobias, ophidiophobia is relatively common, although it is likely that arachnophobia and general herpetophobia both occur more frequently. This is most likely because many people have somewhat rational reasons for being afraid of snakes, and these fears sometimes evolve into uncontrollable phobias. Whether a person's phobia can be linked to a specific event in his or her life, it is likely that a confrontation with snakes had some influence on the ophidiophobiac’s feelings about the animals.
Conditions like ophidiophobia can become very serious when the fear migrates to the imagination. An ophidiophobiac may have irrational fears that snakes will come out of the walls, for instance, and may take absurd precautions against snakes in his or her own house. He or she may obsessively research snakes and ways in which to protect one's self from them. When the phobia becomes extremely severe, the images conjured up by the ophidiophobiac's imagination may render a person completely consumed by the fears and unable to live with the condition.
People who experience severe phobias may be plagued by their fears to such a degree that they require psychological help. Snakes are not usually encountered by most people in everyday living, so ophidiophobia does not usually require treatment. It is only in severe cases that psychological action must be taken. Treatment may consist of desensitization, hypnosis, and talking. In most cases, treatment is at least partially successful, and daily activities can be resumed without much interference from the phobia.