Dubai: Dr Muna Adwa, Specialist — Psychiatry at the Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, defines claustrophobia as “a fear of closed spaces, especially small spaces such as elevators, tunnels, small rooms, even aircraft, from which the individual feels there is no escape. It is an anxiety disorder that is typically manifested in a panic attack.”

According to Dr Adwa, nearly five per cent of the population suffers from some sort of claustrophobia symptoms at some point in life.

“Fear of closed spaces can be triggered by a personal experience one may have had as a child, such as being locked in a closet or even a recent memory of being trapped in an elevator … the memory remains lodged in the subconscious and when an individual finds himself in a similar situation and under stress, it becomes a trigger for claustrophobia manifestation.”

Symptoms of claustrophobia include signs such as excessive sweating, breathlessness, palpitations, fear of suffocation and a feeling that one is unable to escape. Those who are with such patients need to watch for these symptoms,

But Dr Adwa added that not everyone who has had an unpleasant experience might experience claustrophobia and the condition does have some genetic factors like any other anxiety disorder. Dr Adwa said: “If we feel a patient who comes to us may have claustrophobia, we do a detailed examination which includes filling up of an exhaustive questionnaire followed by an interview of the patient before we diagnose this.”

The typical treatment for claustrophobia requires intense cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). “I would say a patient will require at least 10-12 sessions of CBT, for anyone diagnosed with moderate to severe claustrophobia.”

What you can do

Recognise and accept that you may have claustrophobia and seek medical help.

Subject yourself to objective evaluation to determine your level of claustrophobia.

Learn relaxation techniques to help you manage your anxiety and fear.

Be open to self-desensitisation that will help you face your fear and closed spaces for a small duration and gradually increase the duration once you overcome the anxiety.

Take steps to empower yourself in other areas of your life. Success and confidence might change the way you perceive a place or situation.

Find people who may be undergoing a similar problem and talk to them. Sharing experience might help you cope better.