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Acrophobia is a fear of heights. It is normal for people to practice some caution or feel a little nervous when climbing a ladder or standing on a high point of a mountain during a hiking trip. People with acrophobia have fear so intense that it can cause anxiety attacks or impact their everyday lives. A person with true acrophobia should seek professional help to overcome this fear. Treatments for this phobia can include talk therapy to find the root cause of the fear, progressive exposure and medications.
A person with a severe fear of heights may feel that his or her phobia popped up out of nowhere, but there likely is an event that triggered this reaction. Some common triggers include a person's own traumatic childhood accident involving heights or witnessing a friend or family member being killed in a height-related incident. People who suffer from other types of severe anxiety and stress may develop acrophobia if they do not deal with their other issues in a healthy way. If a person is so afraid of heights that he or she cannot perform standard activities, such as using an elevator or climbing stairs, then a psychologist can help the person find the deep-seeded cause of his or her fear through talk therapy. A patient and psychologist also can work on deep breathing and other relaxation techniques to practice if a person feels a height-related panic attack coming on.
Progressive exposure is a valuable tool that can help acrophobia suffers. This technique seeks to help a person overcome his or her fear of heights by taking small steps involving high places. A psychologist may start small with a person who has an excessive fear of heights by asking the patient to stand on the second or third step of a step ladder during an appointment. Patients also may be asked to look at pictures of mountaintops, skyscrapers and other high places. As a patient becomes more comfortable, he or she can go on outings with a supportive family member to try to conquer standing on balconies, using escalators and even eventually going to the highest floor of a tall building and looking out the window.
Prescription medications also can be helpful to some patients suffering from acrophobia. Sedative medications can be used to help calm a patient who is having an anxiety attack. Some patients may need to take these types of medications long-term, while others may just need to take medication during the beginning of therapy to help deal with the progressive exposure process before eventually being weaned. Each patient is different, so a psychiatrist can work with a person suffering from acrophobia and his or her therapist to determine how much medication is necessary.