What is Dermatophobia? (A Summary)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Dermatophobia.
An intense fear of skin disease is called Dermatophobia. 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 skin diseases.
Even the thought of having a skin disease can instigate anxiety. If the condition worsens, one might undergo full-blown panic attacks.
Normally, people fear getting a skin allergy/disease because of the adverse effects it can have on one’s health.
However, someone suffering from Dermatophobia will get terrified when they think they’ll get a skin disease.
This overwhelming response to a thought is what persuades one to avoid their fear stimuli. A sufferer tends to avoid getting a skin disease.
Acts of avoidance are repetitive. Therefore, these actions can change into compulsions, leading to OCD.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance in Dermatophobia affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid getting out in the sun due to their fear of getting a skin disease from the sun’s heat.
He’ll isolate himself in his room/house.
Someone else will use excessive ointments or creams for preventing skin allergy/disease.
They’ll visit a doctor more often to be sure they’re not developing a skin disease.
Dermatophobia is an irrational fear of skin diseases. It is a type of specific phobia in which one suffers from extreme anxiety when exposed to skin diseases.
Symptoms of Dermatophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Dermatophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of skin diseases 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 heart rate 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.
Dermatophobia, being the fear of skin diseases is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might 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 Dermatophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to skin diseases
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about skin diseases
- Unavoidable anxiety
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter skin diseases
- Recurrent need see a skin doctor
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Dermatophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Dermatophobia
Dermatophobia, like all other phobias, has no known cause.
In this phobia, one is fearful of skin diseases because of the fear that it might lead to more severe health problems.
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 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 Dermatophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
Someone who already has a sensitive skin/skin allergy might fear of having a skin disease which can aggravate and cause other health problems.
Also, someone who suffers from a skin disease might develop Dermatophobia because of the pain or unpleasant feeling it produces.
Watching or hearing someone suffer from misery due to skin diseases can lead to the development of this phobia.
Reading about the harmful effects skin diseases have on one’s health can be another cause for developing this irrational fear.
Therefore, Dermatophobia develops as a result of genetics and environmental factors.
Treatment of Dermatophobia
Dermatophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Dermatophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lowers 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.
Dermatophobia is defined as the irrational fear of skin diseases. 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 their fear stimuli.
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.
• 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.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear.
In the case of Dermatophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of skin diseases.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Dermatophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of 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 wind around them, 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Dermatophobia, 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 their fear stimuli.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Dermatophobia.
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. 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.
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.
Whether the cause of Dermatophobia, 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
- ADHD AND ANXIETY: All You Need To Know About Adhd and Anxiety
by AARON WILMOORE MD
- Powerful Calm, Release Anxiety, Stress, Worry & Fear: Train Your Mind with Energizing Music & Affirmations
by Jupiter Productions, Anna Thompson, et al.
- Fear Is Not the Boss of You: How to Get Out of Your Head and Live the Life You Were Made For
by Jennifer Allwood and Zondervan
- Train the Brave: Tame Your Fear, Take the Chance, Dare to Live Big (Be Your Best)
by Margie Warrell
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How is Dermatophobia treated?
Psychotherapies like CBT, NLP and or medicinal drugs are very effective ways of treating Dermatophobia.
Q2) What causes Dermatophobia?
A genetic predisposition and environmental factors are the reasons why one develops Dermatophobia.
Q3) How is Dermatophobia diagnosed?
Dermatophobia is diagnosed by the help of DSM-V.
According to it, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months accompanied by at least 3-5 physiological symptoms of specific phobias.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.
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