Claustrophobia is the fear of being confined to and trapped in a small space. It can be triggered by many different things including crowded places, elevators, small rooms, or even constricting clothing. Claustrophobia is classified as an anxiety disorder, and it can often lead to a panic attack. People with claustrophobia will most likely avoid going into small spaces which may trigger their panic. It is suggested that up to 5 percent of Americans experience claustrophobia, although many people do not seek treatment. These ten symptoms may be experienced by people who have claustrophobia.
Feeling intense fear and panic
Since claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder, a person with claustrophobia may experience a panic attack when confined in a small area. It may be the onset of a feeling of intense fear and panic, which triggers the following symptoms.
During an anxiety attack, people tend to breathe quickly through their mouths. This can cause a person’s mouth to become dry—which is not to be confused with thirst. Another reason that a person may develop a dry mouth during an anxiety attack is due to increased stomach acid. The body takes a cue from the mind and goes into panic mode, wreaking havoc on the digestive system. This can trigger acid reflux (although a person may not even be aware of it), killing off the healthy bacteria which keeps the mouth hydrated.
Hyperventilation occurs when a person starts breathing very fast. They may have difficulty catching their breath, and begin breathing out more than they are breathing in. This brings the carbon dioxide level in the body down, leading to other symptoms like lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers. Hyperventilation is most often caused by anxiety, panic, stress, or nervousness, but it can also be brought on by physical stress such as severe bleeding, lung infection, or a heart attack.
Sweating is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety disorder, and it can be frustrating and downright embarrassing. It is one of the physiological responses triggered by the sympathetic nervous system during a flight-or-fight response. Sweating is activated when the heart rate and blood flow increases, and it is a mechanism engaged in cooling down the body to prevent overheating. If you begin to sweat during a panic attack, make sure your body can breathe. Unclench your fists, and keep your arms relaxed, by your side. If you are prone to anxiety attacks, wear loose and unrestrictive clothing.
Anxiety and stress are common causes of nausea, which can present as mild—from butterflies in your belly—to severe, which may include vomiting. As mentioned above, the mental stress of an anxiety attack will trigger physiological and neuroendocrine responses. Our bodies get flooded with stress hormones during a period of severe anxiety, and that can cause an upset stomach.
Many people with panic and anxiety disorders experience dizziness and fainting during a panic attack. There are a few reasons a person may faint due to stress. The first reason is that of hyperventilation. When a person breathes too quickly, they breathe out too much carbon dioxide, resulting in constriction of the blood vessels—including those in the brain—causing lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness, and fainting. The second reason a person may faint is due to an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline causes tunnel vision and increased heart rate, making a person pass out. Alternatively, certain parts of the brain may simply shut down during a panic attack, causing a person to pass out.
Numbness or pins and needles
When a person with claustrophobia is put in a compromising situation that may trigger an anxiety attack, they may experience numbness and tingling in the extremities. Hyperventilation causes a shortage of carbon dioxide in the body, leading to numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes. Numbness is also a physiological change due to the fight-or-flight response. The more often a person experiences a panic attack, the more difficult it may become for her to recover each time.
Tightness in the chest
A panic attack can often mimic symptoms of other serious medical conditions. Sometimes, a panic attack can cause chest pain and tightness, leading a person to believe they are suffering from a heart attack. The fight-or-flight response in the body may trigger muscles in the chest to contract. This, in turn, may cause even more anxiety, which causes the muscles to constrict even further. The person may enter a vicious cycle which makes it difficult for them to calm down.
Increased heart rate
The most frequently reported symptom of a panic attack is the rapid or irregular heartbeat. People report feeling as if their heart is pounding violently inside their chest. People who experience anxiety attacks may fear that they have a cardiological disorder. It should be noted that increased heart rate is a very normal physiological response to stress, and instead of becoming more anxious, a person should focus on steady breathing.
Feeling confused or disoriented
Anxiety can make a person feel “cloudy” or confused. They may become forgetful and disoriented during a panic attack. When a person’s body is in stress-mode, the hormone cortisol is released in greater amounts, which may interfere with memory. A person may even be confused by his symptoms during a panic attack or confused by the onset of the panic attack. He may become so distracted by his symptoms, that he is not able to focus on what is going on around him. The confusion may become so severe that the person may believe he is in a dream, or that what is happening around him is not real.
Claustrophobia can cause symptoms that are mild to severe depending on the situation and the person experiencing them. This phobia can even become debilitating for certain people. If you or a loved one may be suffering from symptoms related to claustrophobia, make an appointment with a medical health professional.