What is Amathophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Amathophobia.
An intense fear of dust is called Amathophobia.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to dust.
Not just the exposure but a mere thought of dust can instigate anxiety. If one’s condition worsens, they can undergo panic attacks.
Therefore, one avoids getting in contact with or exposed to dust. This is to eliminate feelings of anxiety.
Sufferers fear of dust is justified due to these acts of avoidance, thus one repeats his actions. These repetitive acts can turn into compulsions.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one suffering from Amathophobia will excessively clean their house or room in order to get rid of dust.
They will clean every object they intend to use before touching it.
Because of this fear one will also refrain from going out of the house, whether to school or for a job because of the fear that they might get exposed to dust.
These actions are repeated by an individual at all times. Thus, someone suffering from Amathophobia can develop OCD in the future.
Dust poses no threat to one. It is completely non harmful and non threatening.
Someone suffering this fear of dust realizes that it is irrational but is unable to control anxiety it causes and thus, end up fearing it even more.
Amathophobia is the irrational fear of dust. The name originates from the Greek word ‘amathos’ meaning sand and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Amathophobia
People with Amathophobia, like in all other specific phobias experience intense anxiety when exposed to dust.
They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus end up feeling more anxious.
This anxiety, in extreme cases, can give rise to full-blown panic attacks.
The sufferer goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush. In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight) or stay and combat their fear (fight).
In the case of Amathophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to their fear stimuli (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.
Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.
Apart from anxiety, Amathophobia has a number of other physiological symptoms which include:
- Extreme anxiety upon an encounter with dust
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about dust
- Avoiding dust
- Excessive acts of cleaning
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to control anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling dizzy
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus)
- Upset stomach
Out of these, one should experience at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Amathophobia.
Causes of Amathophobia
Amathophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no known cause.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body. Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents are transmitted into their child.
Someone whose parent(s) has Amathophobia is more likely to have it, as compared to a person who doesn’t have a family history of any disorder.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Amathophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of dust.
Amathophobia can be developed as a result of other specific phobias. Someone fearful of germs is very likely to be afraid of wind because dust can adobe a source of spreading certain germs
An environmental trigger event can be a past-traumatic experience.
For example, someone might have had an accident or got stuck in a sandstrom.Or maybe they heard an incident like this.
One might have a sort of dust allergy which can aggravate when one comes in contact with dust. Therefore, they avoid or are fearful of it.
Therefore, Amathophobia like all other specific phobias has no definite cause. It can be caused by both genetics and or environmental events.
Treatment of Amathophobia
Amathophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Amathophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Amathophobia is defined as the irrational fear of dust. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to dust.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Amathophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the blowing wind, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills.
This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem/fearful aspects to it.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Amathophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of an object with dust for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is exposed to dust.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real dust.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of dust, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Amathophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Valium are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Amathophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about dust.
Whether the cause of Amathophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
by Ann Swanson
- The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity
by Jerrold Greenberg
- Overcoming Specific Phobia – Client Manual (Best Practices for Therapy)
by Edmund J. Bourne PhD and Matthew McKay PhD
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Amathophobia?
A genetic predisposition and or environmental factors can cause one to have Amathophobia.
Q2) How do I overcome Amathophobia?
Psychotherapies (like CBT, exposure therapy, DBT) and medicinal drugs are effective ways of treating Amathophobia.
Q3) Do I have Amathophobia?
One can be diagnosed with Amathophobia if they suffer from anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, including 3-5 physiological symptoms.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.