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12 Frightening Phobias That Are More Common Than You Think

woman stands at the top of a cliff edge looking fearful

If you are irrationally afraid of something, you have what is called a phobia. Phobias are more common than you might think.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that 12.5 percent of adults in the United States suffer from a specific phobia at some point in their lives. Also, women are more likely to develop phobias than men, and phobias in children often develop because of a parent’s fear.

Are you curious about what people fear the most? Below is a detailed list of some famous phobias.


Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. (The term is derived from the Greek word “ophis,” meaning serpent.) Fear of snakes can extend beyond terror at the presence of an actual snake. In fact, someone with ophidiophobia may experience a panic attack from simply looking at a harmless photo of a snake.


spider crawling on man's arm

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. (“Arachne” is the Greek word for spider.) Maybe you find them scary because they move so fast, or because of their strange beady eyes and freakish tangle of legs. However, whatever it is about spiders that arouses terror within you, you’re not alone in fearing them. Indeed, it seems that at least 40 percent of those who have a phobia are afraid of some sort of creepy-crawly, which includes spiders, rats, and snakes.

Different levels of fear exist when it comes to any phobia. One person may be fine seeing a spider outside as long as it’s not inside their home, while others might have a panic attack after merely glimpsing one from afar. People who possess an irrational fear can’t help their reactions when faced with the object of that fear, after all.


Acrophobia is the fear of heights. Some people may be too afraid even to stand on a step ladder due to this phobia, while others might be able to manage ascending a ladder but not a glass elevator. Because the fear of heights can be so drastically different for each person, it is not considered a “specific” phobia.

People with vertigo do not have acrophobia; however, vertigo can be a symptom of the fear of heights. As with all phobias, you can develop acrophobia later in life even if you enjoyed climbing trees as a child. A fall, balance issues, or any number of reasons could be behind your sudden fear of heights.


While social phobia (a fear of being around people) is one of the most common phobias, agoraphobia is, rather, a fear of open spaces. Some people confuse agoraphobia with the fear of social situations. “Agora” is the Greek word for marketplace, which is definitely an open space.

A total of 1.8 million people in the United States have experienced agoraphobia. For some, it involves a fear of leaving the house, a panic attack in front of others, or a lack of an escape route. For others, it’s not related to an underlying panic disorder and can arise from a simple action such as stepping onto the front porch.


In direct contrast to agoraphobia, claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed, rather than open, spaces. What pertains to an open space may differ from person to person. Some people may fear a tight and confined space (such as a crawl space), while others might become fearful in a bigger space (such as a basement).

When you experience claustrophobia, you may get the feeling that the walls are closing in on you. This can happen while you are alone in a tight space, or even in a crowded room where the presence of too many faces brings it on.

Up to 5 percent of Americans have claustrophobia. The name comes from the Latin word “claustrum,” which means “to lock something.”


Are you afraid of getting on a plane? If you are, then you have pteromerhanophobia, the fear of flying. It’s also sometimes called aviophobia, for aviation.

The fear of flying in an airplane may stem from a fear of heights or tight spaces. Some people fear flying because they worry about getting into accidents, running into terrorists, or even catching illnesses from being in close quarters with so many people.


closeup of gray and black striped cat with orange eyes
PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

Ailurophobia is the fear of cats. “Ailouros” is the Greek word for cat. Most people might wonder why such a cute and cuddly creature could be frightening to anyone. However, some individuals are terrified of cats. And as with all phobias, someone with ailurophobia may not even know why cats scare them.

This irrational fear of cats could have something to do with the historical connection of cats to witches and the devil.


Cynophobia is the fear of dogs. The word originates from the Greek word for dog, “kyon.” Dogs can be a little scarier than cats (sorry, dog people). They sometimes bark, snap, bare their teeth, or position their bodies in ways that let you know when you aren’t welcome. However, even a happy, cute puppy with a wagging tail can be frightening to someone with this fear.

Children who are afraid of dogs often have a parent with the same fear because it is a learned response. Over 7 percent of people in the United States have an irrational fear of dogs.


Astraphobia is the fear of thunder, lightning, and even heavy storms. If the crack of lightning and the boom of thunder put you into a panic even without a tornado warning, you have what is sometimes also called brontophobia or tonitrophobia.

The fear of lighting and thunder could have something to do with the possibility of being struck by lightning, or even just the deafening sound it makes when it cracks the sky.


Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. It derives from the Greek word “kolobatheron,” which actually means “stilts.” (This is because clowns in ancient Greece walked on stilts.)

In one study, 7.8 percent of the people interviewed admitted to having a fear of clowns. Why are they afraid? It could be the elaborate makeup disguising the clown’s identity, or maybe it’s the creepy clowns from horror films and haunted houses that strike fear into adults and children alike.


syringe pulling medicine from glass vial

Trypanophobia is the fear of needles, and at least half of the 20 percent of people who don’t like needles possess an irrational fear of them. (“Trypano” is the Greek word for borer, a tool used for drilling.)

Getting poked with a needle is painful, so there is a legitimate reason for wanting to avoid the experience. However, most shots are necessary. After all, without needles, there would be no vaccinations or blood donations.


Dentophobia has a name that makes it easy to figure out; it is the fear of dentists. Dental fears often stem from a bad experience in childhood. Even as an adult, fear can keep you from going to the dentist unless it’s an emergency situation (and even then, some people would rather suffer on than brave the visit).

According to Gentle Dental, 75 percent of adults have some amount of fear related to visiting the dentist. People with needle phobias may also have a problem with dental visits because the experience might involve getting a shot in the mouth.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »