What is Chaetophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Chaetophobia.
What is Chaetophobia?
Fear of hair is called Chaetophobia. Someone suffering from this type of phobia experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli (which is hair in this case).
It comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V and is a specific phobia.
An individual with Chaetphobia experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to hair. Not just the sight of it, but the very thought of hairs can instigate anxiety.
This anxiety, if intensified, can also cause full-blown panic attacks.
Someone suffering from Chaetophobia fears losing hair, animals or someone’s hair and or at times their own.
The anxiety one suffers, drives them to avoid their fear stimuli, which is hair in the case of Chaetophobia.
These acts of avoidance are repeated because of the pleasant feelings it produces. Therefore, this can result in one developing OCD.
According to the DSM-V, avoidance also affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
They will for instance, avoid meeting people for the fear that they might encounter their loose hair.
They will avoid going near animals with body hair. They will be hesitant of touching their own, for the fear that they might fall.
In general, their avoidance for hair can lead to the development of depression.
Chaetophobia is an irrational fear of hair. It derives from a Greek word ‘khaite’ meaning loose flowing hair and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
This type of specific phobia is also known as Trichopathophobia.
What is the Fear of Wet Hair called?
The fear of Wet hair is called Chaetophobia, whereas the fear of hair in general is referred to as Trichophobia. In the fear of wet hair people might be scared of seeing hair in drains or here and there, while in trichophobia there may be a fear of seeing hair in general.
Symptoms of Chaetophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Chaetophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of hair suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heartbeat or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around his fear stimuli, he 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)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Chaetophobia, being the fear of hair is experienced by individuals in different ways. One might be fearful of loose hair, others might be afraid of animal hair .
One might also have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Chaetophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to hair
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about hair
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter hair
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Chaetophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Chaetophobia
Chaetophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause. In this phobia, one experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to hair.
This type of specific phobia 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 is inherited by the child.
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 Chaetophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
An environmental trigger event can be someone developing Chaetophobia because in childhood they were physically/sexually abused by someone who had loose hair.
One might associate them with germs, leading to diseases. Someone with a skin allergy or an illness may fear hair. Others are fearful of getting bald.
Therefore, Chaetophobia is caused by genetics and or an environmental trigger event.
Treatment of Chaetophobia
Chaetophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other phobias, Chaetophobia 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.
Chaetophobia is defined as the irrational fear of hair.
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 getting exposed to hair.
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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Chaetophobia (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 hair, 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 where he sees hair.
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 hair.
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 hair, 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, 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 for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Chaetophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of 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 smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Cheatophobia, 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 the 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 hair.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Chaetophobia.
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 Klonopin 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.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil 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.
Whether the cause of Chaetophobia, 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 David D. Burns MD M.D., Kaleo Griffith, et al.
- Badass Ways to End Anxiety & Stop Panic Attacks! A counterintuitive approach to recover and regain control of your life
by Geert Verschaeve
- Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Their Cause and Cure
by Robert Handly and Pauline Neff
by Gill Hasson
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How common is Chaetophobia?
It is a very rare type of specific phobia, in which one fears hair.
Q2) How is Chaetophobia treated?
By using medicines, like anti-anxiety and psychotherapies (like CBT, exposure therapy), Chaetophobia can be treated.
Q3) what causes Chaetophobia?
A genetic predisposition and or environmental factors can cause Chaetophobia.
Q4) Is there a phobia of wet hair?
Chaetophobia is the fear of hair. It includes all types of hair (loose, animal hair, one’s own or someone else’s).
Examples of other interesting phobias