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Ophidiophobia (Fear of Snakes) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last Updated: Dec 26, 2020

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What is Ophidiophobia?

Ophidiophobia or ophiophobia is the irrational or extreme fear of snakes. It comes under the subcategory of herpetophobia, the fear of reptiles. It is a mixture of 2 Greek words for snake and phobia, Ophis and phobia. According to researchers it is said that around a third of people are scared of snakes.

Those who are living with ophidiophobia have violent physical and psychological reactions to snakes- sometimes even caused by thought of a snake. According to the many types of research, phobias related to reptiles (and snakes specifically) may be evolutionary, meaning they are developed by our ancestors as a survival mechanism

Is Ophidiophobia an Evolutionary trait?

Some researchers theorize that our fears are there to protect us. Specifically, many snakes are dangerous so the theory is that some people are scared of them so they will avoid them and thus avoid getting bitten and die as a result. However, this theory failed to explain why the fear of snakes or ophiophobia is common while fear of other animals such as bears and tigers is rare.

Facts About Ophidiophobia

  • A true phobia exists when the person learns facts about snakes. The person may be told that most snakes are not poisonous and that they only strike when feeling threatened but knowing does not make the person feel any less threatened by them.
  • The fear could stem from the fact that snakes can hide in cracks or under the objects and not be seen until they move, which startles the person who is afraid of snakes.
  • A person who has ophidiophobia may become fearful thinking about snakes, seeing an image of one, or seeing a live one.
  • The person may freeze or feel panicky and wish to leave the area immediately.

Symptoms of ophidiophobia:

If you have a severe fear of snakes, you may experience one or more symptoms when you come near them or think about them, or engage with media containing snakes. For example, if your friend discusses their pet ball python in front of you, then you may have one or more of the following reactions:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trembling
  • Shaking

These symptoms could also get worse as you get closer to a snake or as the time of a proposed snake interaction grows closer to happening.

Ophidiophobia can be sinister. Over time, people may begin to fear things that are not directly related to snakes themselves. For example, you may become afraid of pet stores that offer snake sale. You may avoid camping or hiking trips or even zoos and nature preserves. Sometimes, you may also develop a secondary fear of other reptiles.


Ophidiophobia Possible Causes

Like other phobias, fear of snakes occurs from a variety of causes. It may have multiple factors. Some of the causes of fear of snakes or Ophidiophobia are mentioned below:

  • Negative experience: Any traumatic event with snakes, especially when you are young, could leave you suffering from a phobia of the creatures. This fear could include being bitten or being in a dangerous environment/area that featured lots of snakes in which you felt trapped or helpless.
  • Learned behaviours: If you grew up seeing a parent or relative having fear of snakes, then there are chances you may have learned they were something to fear. This is true of many specific phobias, including ophidiophobia.
  • Portrayal in media: Many times, we learn things because popular media or society tell us it is scary. If you saw too many scary movies featuring snakes or scary images for over a long period of time, then there are chances that you may have ophidiophobia.

This phobia could also be triggered if you hear someone describing a frightening experience with a snake.

Diagnosis of ophidiophobia:

There are some specific phobias that can sometimes be delicate to diagnose. Not all of them are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).

In this case, Ophidiophobia is diagnosed as a specific phobia, which means an intense fear or anxiety in response to a specific trigger, such as an animal, environment, or situation. The first step of diagnosing is to discuss your symptoms and fears with your therapist or counsellor. They will help you by talking about your different memories or experiences you have of your phobia.

Then, together, you can have a conversation through different possible diagnoses to see which feels the closest to your own personal experience. Afterward, you can decide together on possible treatment.

Common Treatment Methods for Ophidiophobia

Hypnotherapy can be an option for some people. Working with a professional gives the individual or sufferer the opportunity to go back and reprogram his or her thinking about the snakes. It is not always the best option, but it involves some relief of control.

As such there is no single treatment for ophidiophobia but some common treatment methods include:

Exposure therapy:This therapy is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for specific phobias. In exposure therapy, you will work with a therapist to slowly expose yourself to what you’re afraid of.

For ophidiophobia, this may mean looking at pictures of snakes with your therapist and discussing the emotions and physical reactions that come up in response. These activities will help you learn relaxation techniques to help you kill your fear of snakes.

In some cases, your therapist may try using a virtual reality system to be around a snake but digital space where it feels like you’re there, but nothing can truly hurt you. This activity will also help you in coping with your fear.

Exposure therapy:Relaxation TrainingRelaxation techniques have the purpose of providing you with the abilities and techniques you need to relax when faced by the object of your fear. These techniques may include but are not limited to visualization routines, controlled breathing exercises, counting exercises and positive affirmations. Meditation is an activity that allows you to practice achieving both mental and physical tranquillity at will.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy:Cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT may help if you do not feel ready to try exposure therapy. In CBT, you’ll be working with a therapist to challenge and reframe negative thoughts about snakes. This therapy may include a bit of exposure to snakes, but there is nothing to worry about as it is done only within the safe setting of a therapy session.

Medication to Treat Ophidiophobia

There are no particular medications designed to treat phobias. Some medications, however, can be taken to get relief from panic or anxiety attacks. These include

  • Beta-blockers: These drugs keep your blood pressure and heart rate at a steady rate & reduces other physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications are sedatives. They help in reducing anxiety symptoms, but they’re typically only prescribed for a short time or for occasional use, as they can be addictive.
  • D-cycloserine (DCS): This medicine increases the benefits of exposure therapy.

How to Overcome from Fear of Snakes?

Ophidiophobia is one of the common phobias faced by millions of people across the world. It is advised to not to hesitate and consult your therapist as soon as possible. By talking with a therapist and seeking support from trusted friends and family members, you can find a way to reduce your anxiety and live a free life from ophidiophobia.

Additional Information on Ophidiophobia

By applying and following the treatment mentioned above, a person can overcome their fear of snakes and will not only lead a normal life but also enjoy the beautiful creatures and will love studying or playing with them.

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Written ByDrx Hina FirdousPhD (Pharmacology) Pursuing, M.Pharma (Pharmacology), B.Pharma - Certificate in Nutrition and Child CarePharmacology
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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