In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Pediculophobia.
Fear of lice is called Pediculophobia. Lice are tiny parasites that feed on blood.
They are usually found in one’s hair and when feeding on blood cause an itching sensation.
People fear them mostly because maybe they are a sign of uncleanliness or the fact that they suck blood.
Unlike in Pediculophobia, one does not get anxious or terrified at the exposure with lice.
Pediculophobia comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V as a specific phobia.
Thus, one experiences extreme anxiety not only when exposed to lice, but at the mere thought of them.
The exaggerated levels of anxiety one suffers from in Pediculophobia are what affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
This is because one tends to avoid their fear stimuli (lice), which causes hindrances in a sufferer’s daily life.
For example, a sufferer will avoid meeting people for the fear that they might get lice if someone else has them.
At times, one will also avoid getting close to his family members.
They will refrain from going out of the house because they fear they may get lice.
Someone suffering from Pediculophobia can also develop Anthropophobia (fear of people).
These excessive acts to avoid mice can lead to bigger consequences in the future. One can develop depression and or OCD as a result.
Because one feels safe when avoiding lice, if avoidance becomes impossible, they will experience great misery.
One will undergo full-blown panic attacks as a result of his excess anxiety.
Pediculophobia is an irrational fear of lice. It is a type of specific phobia which is also known as Phthiriophobia.
The name originates from the Latin word ‘pediculo’ meaning lice and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Pediculophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias, have anxiety as their pivotal symptom.
Therefore, someone suffering from Pediculophobia will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to their fear stimuli, lice.
Specific phobias are irrational fears. However, Pediculophobia is not wholly irrational because of the fact that lice, though are not very harmful, suck one’s blood.
Though, someone suffering from this phobia is unable to rationalise his fear and ends up getting anxious.
Avoidance as mentioned earlier is repetitive. These recurrent actions maintain one’s fear by producing feelings of security, which makes one believe that lice are to be feared of.
According to the DSM-V, to be diagnosed with Pediculophobia, one needs to experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months and at least 3-5 symptoms (from the list mentioned below).
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to lice
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about lice
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding lice
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Feeling depressed
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
Causes of Pediculophobia
All anxiety disorders, including specific phobias have no real/definite cause. They are caused by either a genetic predisposition and or environmental factors.
According to the genetic/biological model, specific phobias are developed due to a genetic predisposition.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders has a higher chance of developing Pediculophobia.
This is because any alteration in the genes of his parents will be transferred to him.
An imbalance in the neurotransmitter levels of the brain can also be one of the many reasons as to why one develops Pediculophobia.
These alterations are low dopamine levels and high serotonin levels.
This genetic tendency to develop a specific phobia is further explained by the Diathesis-stress relationship.
This suggests that someone with a genetic predisposition will develop Pediculophobia only in the presence of the correct environmental trigger event.
Someone who’s suffering from Parasitophobia (fear of parasites) is very likely to develop Pediculophobia.
Also fear of itching (Trypophobia) can cause one to have an irrational fear of lice.
An individual who has experienced or heard of someone else’s unpleasant encounter with lices has a higher chance of fearing them.
Therefore, Pediculophobia is a result of either genetics and or other factors.
Treatment of Pediculophobia
Pediculophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Pediculophobia is treated by a number of different methods: Psychological treatment and Biological treatment.
- Psychological Treatment
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Pediculophobia is defined as the irrational fear of lice. 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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Pediculophobia (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 lice 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 encounters lice.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels that he’s 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 lice.
While the patient is being exposed to different levels of fear 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 causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to their 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 lice, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
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 Pediculophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of lice.
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 Pediculophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of animal 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 Pediculophobia, 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.
- Biological Treatment
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Pediculophobia. 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 Pediculophobia, 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
- Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast
by Barry McDonagh and BMD Publishing
- The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Anxiety, Trauma, and Ocd-related Disorders
by Edited by Naomi M. Simon, M.D., et al.
- Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective
by Aaron Beck, Gary Emery, et al.
- Anxiety and Its Disorders, Second Edition: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic
by David H. Barlow
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What is Pediculophobia?
Pediculophobia is an irrational fear of lice.
Q2) How is Pediculophobia diagnosed?
By the help of the criteria mentioned in the DSM-V for specific phobias, one can be diagnosed with Pediculophobia.
The criteria mentions, one should have anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, accompanied by other physiological symptoms.
Q3) What causes Pediculophobia?
Pediculophobia is caused by a genetic predisposition (family history) and or environmental factors (past traumatic experiences).
Q4) How do you overcome Pediculophobia?
Like all other specific phobias, Pediculophobia too is treated by a number of effective psychotherapies and or medicinal drugs.
Below is a complete list of all Phobias which we currently cover.