Everyone is susceptible to a fear of heights, but when the fear causes a person to have panic attacks and consistently avoid situations that involve heights, their condition becomes a phobia. People who have acrophobia, also known as altophobia, have an extreme and irrational fear of heights. Individuals who suffer from this disorder can become terrified to the point that they cannot physically remove themselves from situations in which they become fearful. The phobia, in effect, becomes so paralyzing that it actually poses a danger to those who have it.

Common Facts About Acrophobia

  • The prevalence of acrophobia is between 2 and 5% of the population.
  • Twice as many women have acrophobia as men.
  • It is not vertigo. Vertigo is a spinning sensation that someone gets when he or she is not actually spinning.
  • Rational fear of heights is instinctual in many mammals.
  • Experiments have shown that even human infants are reluctant to crawl onto a glass floor with what looks like a few meters of free fall below it, showing that the phobia could be innate rather than a learned fear.
  • It may relate to poor recognition of visual cues.

Causes of Acrophobia

Like all phobias, researchers have theorized acrophobia to be the result of traumatic experiences. In other instances, acrophobia has been linked to fear of loud noises, fear of the poor structural integrity of buildings and instinct rooted in poor balance.

Treatment of Acrophobia

Treatment for acrophobia varies case by case. Some experts suggest that the phobia may stem from a person’s inability to perceive visual and spatial cues, including the positions of one’s own appendages. This would make the root of the phobia more of a physiological problem than a psychological problem, and thus more effectively treated with medications. However, most individuals who suffer from acrophobia have benefited from psychotherapy. Virtual reality treatment has proven quite effective, as has exposure treatment, which involves a systematic and gradual acclimation to the source of the phobia until it is no longer a problem.

If you are seeking help with acrophobia there are plenty of treatment options. The condition can range from a simple hindrance to a debilitating fear and if left unattended to, can preclude plenty of enjoyable and necessary activities. Ascending stairs, looking out the window of a multi-story building and even base-jumping will remain constant sources of fear and avoidance for the acrophobic unless they receive treatment. Do not let these everyday activities remain out of reach, seek the help and support needed to surmount this disorder.

View Resources

  • – signs and symptoms, possible causes and treatment of acrophobia.
  • – definition of, causes and background info on acrophobia.

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