Fear of heights – Acrophobia

Acrophobia (fear of heights)

We all fear heights at some point in our life, so do we have Acrophobia?

What is Acrophobia?

People with Acrophobia feel extremely fearful about situations that involve heights like climbing a ladder. A dislike or slight fear of heights is normal but extreme persistent and irrational fear of heights is called Acrophobia or Fear of Heights.

Because of this fear of heights people avoid situations that involve heights, like avoiding balconies, high hillls, and being afraid of glass elevators. They feel extreme fear around heights. Even imaging heights can cause them distress.

This disorder affects 6% of the population worldwide. Acrophobia (fear of heights is twice as common in women as in men).

Symptoms of Acrophobia:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sweating 
  • Shaking
  • Palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Muscle tension

Psychological symptoms:

  • Intense anxiety or panic attacks
  • Avoidant behavior
  • Intense feeling of losing control, or dying

It’s important to note that these symptoms are not mutually exclusive, and a person with acrophobia may experience a combination of physical and psychological symptoms. 

Causes of Acrophobia (fear of heights)

Traumatic experiences:

A person may develop acrophobia after experiencing a traumatic event involving heights, such as falling form a high place or being in a situation where they felt they were in danger of falling.


Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing acrophobia, meaning that it runs in their family. Family history of acrophobia may be a risk factor, and people may wonder if acrophobia can be inherited.


Some researchers believe that acrophobia is caused due to classical conditioning. A person may develop acrophobia through a process of classical conditioning, where they associate heights with negative experiences or feelings. 

Evolutionary factors:

Some researchers believe that acrophobia may be an evolutionary adaptation that helped our ancestors avoid dangerous situations involving heights. An adaptive fear of heights is part of our survival instinct.

Diagnosing Acrophobia:

The diagnosis of acrophobia, or the fear of heights, involves a thorough evaluation of a person’s symptoms and medical history, along with the application of the criteria outlined in the DSM-5. 

The DSM-5 defines acrophobia as a persistent and excessive fear of heights, which leads to significant distress or impairment in daily functioning. To meet the diagnostic criteria for acrophobia, a person must experience symptoms such as panic attacks, rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, and intensive anxiety or fear when exposed to heights or the prospect of heights. 

The diagnosis of acrophobia is typically made by a mental health professional, who may also use psychological tests and measure to assess the severity of the person’s symptoms and rule out other potential causes.


Exposure Therapy:

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that involves gradually exposing the person to their feared object or situation in a controlled and safe manner. In this case, it will be heights. This can help them gradually overcome their fear and anxiety. The exposure can be done in various ways, such as looking at pictures of heights, watching videos of people in high places, or standing on progressively higher surfaces.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

CBT is a form of talk therapy that aims to help the person change their thoughts and behaviors related to their fear of heights. The therapist works with the person to identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about heights, and to develop coping strategies and relaxation techniques to manage anxiety.


Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of acrophobia. These medications may be used in combination with therapy or on their own, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Virtual Reality Therapy:

Virtual Reality Therapy is a relatively new treatment that uses technology to simulate a realistic and immersive experience of being in a high place. The person wears a headset that displays a virtual environment, and they can interact with the environment in a controlled and safe way. This can help them gradually desensitize to heights and overcome their fear.

It is important to note that the best treatment for acrophobia may vary depending on the individual’s symptoms, personal preferences, and other factors. A mental health professional can help the person determine the most appropriate treatment plan for their specific needs.


What are some examples of acrophobia?

A person with acrophobia might avoid going on roller coasters or other amusement park rides that involve heights, or they might avoid driving on bridges or overpasses that are high off the ground.

Why is acrophobia so common?

Acrophobia is a relatively common phobia, with estimates suggesting that up to 6% of the population may experience some kind of anxiety related to heights. 

Some researchers believe that acrophobia may have evolutionary roots, dating back to when humans were hunter-gatherers. In this context, a fear of heights may have served as a survival mechanism, helping individuals avoid dangerous situations and potential falls.

Does acrophobia increase with age?

There is some evidence to suggest that acrophobia may become more common with age, although this is not necessarily true for everyone. Some studies have found that the prevalence of acrophobia increases as people get older, especially after the age of 50.

One possible explanation for this age-related increase in acrophobia is that as people age, they may become more aware of their own vulnerability and mortality. This heightened awareness can lead to an increased fear of heights and falling, as these situations are perceived as more dangerous and threatening.

Additionally, as people age, they may also experience physical changes that can impact their balance and coordination, making them more susceptible to falls. This can further contribute to a fear of heights and an avoidance of high places.

Are you born with fear of heights?

It’s unlikely that people are born with a specific fear of heights or acrophobia. Instead, fears and phobias are generally believed to develop over time as a result of a combination of genetic, and environmental factors. 

While some researchers have suggested that evolutionary factor may have contributed to the development of a fear of heights, this does not necessarily mean that babies are born with an innate fear of high places. Instead, the fear of heights may have evolved over time as a way to protect humans from falls and other dangers.

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