Phobia of heights

Phobia of heights

Acrophobia (Fear of Heights)

Acrophobia is the medical term for a fear of heights. 

People with acrophobia have an intense fear of situations that involve heights such as being in a tall building or using a ladder. Like other specific phobias, acrophobia is treatable with psychological therapy.

What is acrophobia (fear of heights)?

Acrophobia is a mental health condition in which the individual experiences an intense fear/phobia of heights. It’s a type of anxiety disorder. A person with acrophobia experiences intense fear and anxiety when they think of tall heights or are positioned at a significant height.  Unlike a specific phobia such as aerophobia, which is the fear of flying, acrophobia can cause you to fear a variety of things related to being far from the ground. They often avoid situations or places that involve heights, like being on a high floor of a building or simply climbing a ladder.

Being slightly afraid of heights is normal for everyone, and it's totally acceptable to be cautious when at a significant height. Most of us may feel uneasy or a bit shaky if we look down from a tall height, such as from a bridge. But people with acrophobia experience intense and irrational fear when they’re faced with heights, including everyday tasks such as climbing a flight of stairs, standing near a balcony, or parking a car in a multiple-floor parking garage.

What is the phobia of heights and what does it affect 

Like other phobias, acrophobia can affect anyone at any age. Specific phobias, like acrophobia, are more likely to develop in children and become apparent in adolescents and young adults. 

What kind of heights are people with a phobia of heights afraid of?

Types of heights or situations that people with acrophobia may fear include:

Walking up a flight of stairs.

Being on a ladder.

Using a multi-level parking garage.

Being on or crossing over a bridge.

Being on a rollercoaster.

Standing near a balcony or at the top of a building.

Looking out a window of a tall building.

How common is acrophobia (the fear of heights)?

Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias. Approximately 3% to 6% of people have acrophobia.


What are the signs and symptoms of acrophobia?

Acrophobia is characterized by feeling intense anxiety and phobia of heights. Individuals' fears can vary greatly.

An individual with acrophobia can manifest emotional or physical symptoms similar to those with other phobias. It is possible that you will not experience vertigo symptoms with acrophobia, but you might experience the following symptoms:

Psychological symptoms

  • Feeling intense fear and anxiety when thinking about, looking at or being in high places.
  • Fearing that something negative will happen in a high place such as falling or being trapped in a high place.
  • Feeling a strong desire to escape if you’re in a high place.

Physical symptoms and signs

  • Experiencing a rapid heartbeat when thinking of or looking at heights.
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded when thinking of or looking at heights.
  • Feeling queasy.
  • Trembling.
  • Having shortness of breath.
  • You may instinctively begin to search for something to cling to and find that you're unable to trust your own sense of balance. 

Common reactions include descending immediately, crawling on all fours, and kneeling or otherwise lowering your body.

Anxiety and Avoidance: If you have acrophobia and are scared of heights, it's likely that you will begin to dread situations that may cause you to spend time in high places. 

What causes acrophobia? Why am I scared of heights?

The exact cause of acrophobia is unknown. According to evolutionary theories, people are predisposed to fear things that might be dangerous. In this instance, falling from a height threatens survival. According to evolutionary theory, fear of heights may be an innate survival response. The fear of pain caused by falling from a significant height could cause acrophobia. It is also possible to develop acrophobia if you have a negative or traumatic experience involving heights.


Acrophobia can be diagnosed in several ways.

Acrophobia is diagnosed based on the symptoms and history of the individual. It must be at least six months since someone experienced persistent anxiety and fear about heights for them to be classified as acrophobic. Riding an elevator can give you a bit of a fright, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that you need a diagnosis. 

Due to their variety, phobias can be difficult to diagnose. People who have acrophobia generally fear more than one kind of height or highplace. There are other phobias that are characterized by a fear of a situation that happens to involve a significant height, but height isn’t the main aspect of the phobia. Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment is important if you're experiencing intense fear that limits your life and experiences.

Additionally, your provider will rule out any other physical or mental health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.


Treatment for a Fear of Heights/ overcoming being scared of heights

In addition to other specific phobias, acrophobia can share certain symptoms with vertigo, a medical condition with many possible causes. Considering these factors, it is extremely important to seek professional help if you suffer from acrophobia.

How is acrophobia treated? What to do if I'm scared of heights?

Acrophobia can usually be treated with psychological treatment (psychotherapy) such as exposure therapy, virtual reality exposure therapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes people need medications that temporarily relieve symptoms of fear and anxiety to cope with fear while they are participating in therapy.

Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a common form of psychological treatment used to treat specific phobias. Virtual reality, on the other hand, may be just as effective, according to a 2017 study. With a major advantage being a big save on cost and time. People with phobias usually avoid situations that involve the thing they are afraid of. Because of this, they aren’t able to learn that they can manage their fear when presented with their specific phobia or that their feared outcomes often do not happen. Therapists and psychologists use exposure therapy for people who have a phobia to slowly encourage them to enter situations that cause them anxiety, and to try to stay in that situation so that they can learn to cope.

Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET): Virtual reality exposure therapy is a type of psychological treatment that uses technology to show the person realistic — but fake — situations to help them cope with stressful and anxiety-inducing situations. VR headsets can show you simulations of situations involving heights if you have acrophobia. This way, you can be exposed to heights in a way that’s completely safe and feels real but isn’t. Research has shown that virtual reality exposure therapy is effective in treating acrophobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):  Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the main treatment of choice for specific phobias. CBT is a form of psychological treatment or psychotherapy. A therapist or psychologist helps you gain a different perspective through talking and asking questions. Techniques that gradually expose you to the feared situation (systematic desensitization) or rapidly (flooding) are commonly used. Therefore, you learn to cope better with fear-related stress and anxiety. In addition, you're taught ways of stopping the panic reaction and regaining emotional control.​

What medications are used to treat acrophobia?

Medications aren’t usually used to treat specific phobias like acrophobia. Sometimes people with acrophobia might take medications to temporarily help them relieve symptoms of fear and anxiety to treat their phobia when they’re going through psychological therapy or in situations that are unavoidable. Medications sometimes used to help treat acrophobia include beta blockers and Relaxants (benzodiazepines).


What is the prognosis (outlook) for acrophobia?

Most people with a specific phobia, like acrophobia, do not seek treatment for their condition because they are able to avoid the situation they are afraid of. You may find it difficult to complete everyday tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs or crossing a bridge if you suffer from acrophobia. Having acrophobia can also be potentially dangerous if you experience a panic attack while at a significant height. This is why it’s important to seek treatment.

Is there a cure for acrophobia?

There is currently no cure for acrophobia, but exposure therapy, a form of psychological therapy, is successful in treating it. Exposure therapy is considered the first-line treatment for specific phobias in general.


Get support. Getting over your fear of heights quickly  is important to managing a stress free successful life.  Talk to your doctor about what medications and therapies might help you. If your doctor is unfamiliar with acrophobia, ask for a referral to a mental health professional who can help. Don’t be embarrassed about telling your friends and your family about your phobia of heights, and ask for their support as you get treatment for it. Remember, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans suffer from acrophobia, but it is very treatable. With help and support, you can start managing your phobia of heights and move on with your life.