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An estimated 10 million people have some type of phobia in the UK, equating to a huge 15% of the population. It is not known exactly how many people have entomophobia, a fear of insects, although it is considered to be a common specific phobia.
Today, we are going to look at entomophobia in more detail, including common triggers, symptoms and treatments.
What is entomophobia?
Entomophobia is a type of specific phobia characterised by an extreme, persistent and overwhelming fear of insects. Entomophobia is a type of anxiety disorder where a person’s fear is irrational. If you have entomophobia, you may experience extreme distress when you encounter insects, or if you think about them or see a picture or video of them.
Entomophobia is different to a fear of insects. Many people are scared of insects or find them creepy or disgusting. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a phobia.
To be characterised as a phobia, your fear of insects must:
- Create feelings of intense fear, panic or anxiety that are difficult to manage.
- Your fear or anxiety must be out of proportion to the potential danger.
- Your fear must last for at least six months.
- Your fear must interfere with your day-to-day life, your overall wellbeing or your sense of safety.
A person with entomophobia may be afraid of all insects or experience greater fear in relation to certain types of insects. Insects are technically classed as arthropod animals that have six legs. Insects also usually have one or two pairs of wings and a pair of antennae. However, creatures that aren’t technically considered to be insects, such as spiders, are often still included in the classification of entomophobia.
The most commonly feared insects are:
Entomophobia is known by several other names including:
A person with entomophobia will likely experience significant fear or distress if they encounter an insect or may go to extreme lengths to avoid insects. Your fear of insects may interfere with your day-to-day life and your ability to function in certain situations, particularly those where insects are more likely to be present, such as when you are outdoors.
You may avoid being outdoors, particularly in places where insects are likely to be, such as the park, your garden or grassy areas. You may also avoid opening your windows and doors in your home or car and stay inside during times of the year when insects are more prevalent.
Even if you are aware that your phobia is extreme and disproportionate to the danger, you will likely still be unable to control your fear and your physiological and psychological responses.
Your entomophobia may be related to:
A fear of contamination:
This could be a fear of getting a disease from insects such as mosquitos, cockroaches and flies. Certain insects can spread diseases to humans if they bite or sting them or land on their food. This fear of contamination could be an evolutionary response to disease avoidance. Some diseases that can transmit from insects to humans include Malaria, Lyme Disease, Yellow Fever and Chikungunya (CHIKV).
Some of these diseases can have a serious negative effect on your health and can even result in death. However, this is extremely rare and seldom occurs in the UK. Although fear of contamination has an evolutionary basis, the fear is still out of proportion to the risk. If the fear of contamination overwhelms you, this is a sign you are experiencing a phobia.
A fear of being stung or bitten:
Several types of insects bite or sting humans. Stings and bites from insects such as bees, wasps and fire ants can be painful or, in the case of insects such as mosquitos, itchy and unsightly. Although insects can bite humans, entomophobia is out of proportion with the likelihood of being bitten and the risks associated with stings and bites.
A fear of infestation:
This could include the fear of your home or body becoming infested with insects. You may fear bringing new things or pets into your home or leaving your windows open in case insects enter your home and reproduce.
Entomophobia is also associated with other similar phobias, including:
- Arachnophobia: A fear of spiders.
- Apiphobia: A fear of bees.
- Myrmecophobia: A fear of ants.
- Scoleciphobia: A fear of worms.
- Spheksophobia: A fear of wasps.
Entomophobia can exist on its own, or in conjunction with one of the above phobias.
How common is entomophobia?
It is estimated that 10 million people in the UK have a phobia. Fear of insects is also relatively common, particularly in big cities where people have less interaction with nature and insects. However, determining how many of these people are experiencing a fear, and how many are experiencing a true phobia, can be difficult.
One of the main reasons why determining exactly how many people have entomophobia is difficult, is that many people with the condition don’t pursue a diagnosis. Because entomophobia is less well known than other phobias, such as claustrophobia, some people may not realise that they have a diagnosable condition and that treatments are available.
They may, instead, avoid coming into contact with insects and any situations and places where they could encounter insects.
Who is at risk of entomophobia?
Several risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing entomophobia, including:
- Having another phobia.
- Having an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.
- Misusing substances, such as drugs or alcohol.
- Having a close family member or friend with entomophobia.
- Having a close family member or friend with another type of phobia (particularly during childhood).
- Experiencing a traumatic or scary encounter with insects.
- Being exposed to the fear of insects during childhood, for example, in a TV show or film.
- Being a naturally nervous or anxious person.
- Having little day-to-day contact with insects.
- Being younger than 20 years of age, as most phobias develop before this age.
- Being female, as women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with entomophobia compared to men.
However, anyone can develop entomophobia, even if they have none of the above risk factors. In some cases, there are no obvious risks that contribute to someone developing a phobia. On the contrary, even if you have several of the risk factors listed above, this does not necessarily mean you will develop entomophobia.
How to deal with entomophobia
You may think that the easiest way to deal with your entomophobia and manage your fear is to avoid situations or places that may trigger your symptoms. However, this may not be an effective long-term solution as it can worsen your condition and make your symptoms more severe in the future. No matter how hard you try to avoid insects, they are often unavoidable, particularly in the spring and summer.
Learning how to deal with your phobia and learning coping strategies can help you to manage your symptoms in the future.
If you feel the onset of symptoms, there are certain coping strategies you can implement to help reduce or alleviate your symptoms, including:
- Practise deep breathing techniques.
- Implement visualisation techniques to calm you down or reduce your feelings of anxiety when faced with an insect. For example, you could visualise a place or person that makes you happy or a calming image.
- Remind yourself that your fear is irrational and that you are not in any danger.
- Remind yourself that the physiological and psychological symptoms will pass.
- Focus on something external to keep you calm, such as the sound of traffic.
To help reduce the likelihood of you experiencing symptoms and to reduce the impact your entomophobia has on your life, there are some long-term strategies you could implement:
- Learn facts and information about insects and look at the evidence to help you understand the harmlessness of most insects and the low risk they pose to humans. This can help to reduce any irrational fears you have surrounding insects.
- Practise visualisation to help you think of situations where you successfully engage with insects.
- Practise self-care, including eating a healthier, more balanced diet, exercising and ensuring you get enough sleep.
- Talk about your fears with someone you trust.
- Practise yoga, meditation or mindfulness.
- Reduce stress in your everyday life.
What triggers entomophobia?
Entomophobia can have different triggers for different people, depending on the severity of your phobia and what caused the initial onset of your phobia.
Some of the most common triggers for entomophobia are:
- Seeing an insect in real life.
- Hearing a sound associated with an insect, such as a buzzing noise.
- Being in a place where insects are typically found, such as a park, wood or garden.
- Thinking about insects.
- Seeing something that looks like an insect (even if it isn’t), such as a feather blowing in the wind.
- Being outside during the spring and summer months, when insects are more commonly seen.
- Being in someone else’s home or car and having no control over whether the windows are open.
- Seeing insects in a cage or enclosure, such as in a zoo.
- Seeing a picture or video of an insect.
What are the symptoms of entomophobia?
Symptoms of entomophobia can differ from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms, whereas others experience severe symptoms. Some people with entomophobia also find that their symptoms vary in different situations, depending on the perceived threat, their current wellbeing and mental state and their coping strategies.
You can experience symptoms of entomophobia when exposed to insects directly or when you are thinking about insects. You may also experience symptoms if you see a picture, video clip or film that contains insects or if you are in a place or situation where insects may be present, such as a park, wood or zoo.
The symptoms of phobias, including entomophobia, are often similar to the symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack.
The symptoms can be both physiological and psychological and can include:
- A rapid heart rate or heart palpitations.
- Hyperventilating, shallow or rapid breathing or difficulty breathing.
- Chest pain or tightening in the chest.
- Feeling of dizziness or light-headedness.
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Sweating, chills or hot flushes.
- A dry mouth.
- Shaking or trembling.
- Nausea, vomiting or the sudden urge to use the toilet.
- Numbness or tingling.
- Confusion or disorientation.
- A choking feeling or the feeling that something is stuck in your throat.
- A sudden headache.
- Freezing and being unable to move.
- Crying (this is especially common in children).
- An immediate and overwhelming feeling of fear or panic.
- Anxiety that overwhelms you or worsens.
- An inability to control your feelings of fear, panic or anxiety – even if you are aware they are out of proportion with the potential risk.
- Difficulty functioning in certain situations or when faced with insects.
- Doing everything possible to avoid places or situations where you could encounter insects.
- A fear of death or dying.
- Feeling trapped or unable to escape.
- The urge to run away or hide.
- A sense of impending doom.
What causes entomophobia?
There is not one sole known cause of entomophobia. There are several reasons why someone could develop a phobia and, in some cases, multiple factors contribute to the onset of the condition.
The main causes of entomophobia are:
- A traumatic event involving insects
If you have had a traumatic event or a negative experience involving insects, this can become a direct learning experience that leads to a phobia of insects. A traumatic experience could include being bitten or stung, finding insects on your body or in your home and becoming ill or experiencing skin irritations because of insects.
- A learned phobia
You could learn to fear insects because of an observational learning experience. If you have a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, or a close friend who has a phobia of insects, you are more likely to develop entomophobia yourself. This is particularly true if the observational learning experience happened during childhood or adolescence.
- Exposure to information that scares you
This is known as an informational learning experience and can happen if you discover facts or information about insects that scare you. For example, if you hear about people dying from malaria, spread via mosquitos, this can result in you considering insects as being scary and dangerous.
- A genetic predisposition
Your genes may be an important factor in the development of a phobia. If you have a genetic susceptibility to fears, phobias or anxiety, you may be more likely to develop a phobia. Scientists are currently trying to determine exactly which gene could be related to phobic disorders.
- Significant stress
Significant, long-term stress can result in disproportionate fear responses or an inability to manage intense situations. This could result in you developing a phobia.
How is entomophobia diagnosed?
There are many different types of phobias and entomophobia is a type of specific phobia. A specific phobia is a lasting, overwhelming and unreasonable fear of a specific object, situation, activity or person; in this case, an overwhelming fear of insects.
A specific phobia may be more difficult to diagnose than other types of phobias, as the specific characteristics of the phobia are not listed in the diagnostic criteria. Specific phobias are also less well known, meaning people may not realise they have a phobia and may never seek a diagnosis.
You should visit your GP if your fear of insects:
- Impedes your ability to function in your everyday life.
- Has a specific negative impact on your quality of life.
- Causes you to avoid certain situations or places.
- Has a negative impact on your mental health or wellbeing.
An early diagnosis means you will have earlier access to treatment and a more thorough understanding of your condition, your triggers and your symptoms.
During your GP appointment, your doctor will look at whether you have a history of anxiety disorders, panic disorders or other relevant conditions. They will also ask about your family history and any medications or supplements you take.
To receive a diagnosis of entomophobia, your GP may refer you to a psychologist. The psychologist will give you a phobia questionnaire to confirm you are experiencing a phobia, rather than a fear. They will also conduct a psychological evaluation and an assessment of your symptoms.
The psychologist will likely request information about:
- Your triggers.
- The type of symptoms you experience.
- The frequency and severity of your symptoms.
- How much your entomophobia interferes with your everyday life.
- When your symptoms began and whether you have experienced any stressors, traumatic events or exposure to entomophobia prior to the onset of symptoms.
To achieve a formal diagnosis, your entomophobia will need to be consistent with the following diagnostic criteria:
1. The fear must be persistent, excessive and unreasonable. Fear could occur both when insects are present and when they are not present.
2. Exposure to insects leads to an immediate anxiety response in the majority of situations.
3. The fear is excessive and disproportionate to the threat, and this is recognised by the individual.
4. The individual avoids places or situations where insects may be present. If insects are present, the individual will experience extreme fear, anxiety or distress.
5. The anticipation of seeing an insect and avoidance behaviours associated with keeping away from insects can have a significant impact on the individual’s day-to-day life.
6. The fear has lasted for a minimum of six months.
7. The phobia is not associated with another disorder or mental health condition.
How is entomophobia treated?
The treatment for entomophobia depends on the type of symptoms your experience and the frequency and severity of the symptoms. Although not everyone with entomophobia wants or requires treatment, treatment is particularly recommended if your phobia impacts your daily life and your overall health and wellbeing.
There are several different types of treatment available for people with entomophobia, including:
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy focuses on the thoughts and beliefs that centre around your phobia and how these affect you. CBT can help you change the way you think and feel and change any harmful or negative thought patterns. CBT can also teach you coping strategies that you can implement if you are faced with insects in the future.
As part of your CBT sessions you will:
- Discuss your triggers and symptoms.
- Explore what caused your entomophobia.
- Explore your fears in more detail.
- Learn how to recognise your negative thoughts and change the way you are thinking.
- Learn coping strategies.
- Learn calming strategies.
Exposure therapy helps you to change your physiological and psychological response to insects. You are gradually exposed to insects in a safe and controlled environment. Also known as desensitisation therapy, gradual and repeated exposure can help you to confront your fear and cope with your triggers.
Your sessions may begin with talking about insects, before moving on to looking at pictures and videos. You may also use virtual reality to increase your exposure before being exposed to real insects in a safe, controlled environment. Exposure therapy should help you deal with the negative thoughts and feelings associated with your phobia.
Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT)
Another type of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, REBT helps you to identify irrational and negative thoughts and unhealthy attitudes, emotions and behaviours. REBT is an action-oriented approach that helps you challenge irrational beliefs and manage the thoughts, emotions and behaviours that occur when faced with insects in a more healthy way.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, medication may also be recommended to treat the anxiety or panic attacks you experience as part of your condition. Medication may be used in conjunction with another type of treatment, such as CBT.
Some medication that is used to treat phobias include:
- Anxiety medication.
Guided relaxation techniques and focused attention can help you to identify the underlying causes of your phobia and help you change your thoughts and feelings around insects. You will be put into a relaxed, hypnotic state and then a combination of techniques will be used to re-pattern your thoughts and memories related to insects. This can help you to reduce your phobic response.
Relaxation and Visualisation
You will learn different relaxation and visualisation techniques, such as mental imagery, guided imagery, deep breathing techniques, autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help you remain calm if you encounter insects in the future.
If the symptoms you are experiencing are severe and you are concerned about your physical or mental wellbeing, you could contact NHS 111 or visit your local Accident and Emergency (A&E) department.