Ophidiophobia: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

This fear manifests itself when being close to stimuli associated with snakes or the like.


Although it is true that snakes have little fame among people and that the stories about them have earned them the fame of very dangerous animals, the reality is that rarely the coincidence with a snake is a real threat to the life of the person.

Despite this, ophidiophobia or snake phobia is one of the most common specific phobias worldwide. Throughout this article we will see what it consists of and how it manifests itself, as well as its possible causes and more effective treatments.

What is ophidiophobia?

By ophidiophobia is understood the specific anxiety disorder in which the person experiences an exacerbated, irrational and uncontrollable fear of snakes.Although experiencing a certain degree of fear in the presence of one of these reptiles is something absolutely natural, in ophidiophobia the fear must be unjustified and exaggerated compared to the real threat posed by the situation.

Some keys that help us to differentiate between a normal and adaptive fear of snakes and a phobia is the behavior that the person presents in situations in which the animal does not pose a danger. These situations can range from the fear experienced when seeing them in a zoo, to experiencing anxious symptoms simply by looking at a photo or a toy reproduction.

The phobia of snakes or ophidiophobia is found within another type of phobia somewhat more generalized: herpetophobia, which is included within the zoophobias. Herpetophobia refers to the intense and exaggerated fear of any type of reptile.

What symptoms does it present?

Like the rest of phobias or specific anxiety disorders, ophidiophobia has a series of symptoms of this type of alterations. The symptoms of these can be divided into three large groups: physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms.

As is usual in all types of conditions, there is no common and rigid pattern of symptoms, but these can vary both in their incidence and in their degree of intensity. These individual differences in the manifestation of symptoms will change according to the intensity of the fear that the person experiences.

1. Physical symptoms

When a person with ophidiophobia is in a situation in which the appearance of any type of snake is involved, a hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system will automatically be triggered.

This hyperactivity generates a reaction in the organism which undergoes a great amount of changes and alterations. Within these changes we find the following.

  • Acceleration of the heart rate.
  • Feeling of vertigo and dizziness.
  • Sickness.
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Feeling of suffocation
  • Increased sweating.
  • Sensation of pressure in the chest.
  • Confusion.
  • Syncope or fainting spells .
  • Gastro-intestinal disorders.

2. Cognitive symptoms

For the physical symptoms to appear in the presence of a snake, the person must also have a series of previous cognitive symptoms. This cognitive symptomatology is given by an association of the phobic stimulus with a series of irrational ideas and beliefs about these reptiles.

These distorted beliefs favor the development of phobia, being reflected in the following way.

  • Intrusive, involuntary and uncontrollable beliefs and thoughts in relation to snakes.
  • Unpleasant and aversive mental images.
  • Obsessive speculations associated with snakes.
  • Fear of not being able to manage the situation properly and end up losing control.
  • Feeling of unreality.

3. Behavioral symptoms

Finally, as in all conditions in which fear and anxiety are beyond the control of the person, ophidiophobia also includes a series of behavioral symptoms that appear in response to the sighting or perception of the aversive stimulus.

These acts are carried out with the intention of either directly avoiding the situation causing discomfort, or to escape as quickly as possible once the aversive stimulus has appeared. These behaviors are known as escape and avoidance behaviors.

The behaviors known as avoidance behaviors are carried out with the intention of avoiding encountering any type of snake. In them, the person performs all kinds of behaviors to avoid the stimulus object of the phobia and thus not get to experience the feelings of anguish and anxiety that it causes.

For example, these avoidance behaviors can be reflected in the constant avoidance or refusal to visit zoos or any type of facility where these reptiles may appear; as well as avoiding traveling to exotic countries.

Finally, escape behaviors appear when the person has not been able to avoid encountering the phobic stimulus, and once the feeling of discomfort is experienced, they will carry out all kinds of behaviors that allow them to escape from the current situation as soon and as quickly as possible.

What causes this phobia?

One of the main features that characterizes phobias is the impossibility, in most cases, of defining the specific origin of a phobia. However, there are a number of factors that can facilitate the appearance, development and maintenance of a phobia.

Someone with a genetic predisposition to suffer the effects of stress to a greater extent, accompanied by the experience of a highly traumatic experience or with a very high emotional charge in which the aversive stimulus (in this case snakes) plays a relevant role, may be much more vulnerable when developing a phobia.

However, in the specific case of snakes, there are some theories that expose other factors, in addition to genetics and traumatic experience, that can justify the intense fear that a person feels towards them.

The first theory points to the idea that ophidiophobia has an evolutionary basis that has not disappeared in some people. These hypotheses maintain that in the past the danger that snakes posed to the physical integrity of humans was much higher, so that the sensation of alertness and danger towards this reptile was much more intense. This sensation would have lasted until today in some of these people who suffer from ophidiophobia.

On the other hand, the mythology that surrounds this animal and the symbology associated with it facilitate the development and maintenance of these irrational and aversive fears and beliefs regarding snakes.

Is there a treatment?

In the event that the person suffers from a real ophidiophobia, and not a normal fear of snakes, proper treatment can reduce, and even eliminate, the anxiety response associated with the aversive stimulus. The high effectiveness of psychological interventions in the treatment of phobias has made them the main method of choice when it comes to alleviating symptoms.

The cognitive-behavioral therapy in which through cognitive restructuring, modifying distorted thoughts of the patient as well as techniques such as systematic desensitization or in vivo exposure, and training in relaxation techniques, it is highly effective and usually have results very satisfactory on the patient.

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