Hydrophobia or fear of water: reasons for its occurrence, how to get rid of it?

Hydrophobia (aquaphobia) is the fear of water.

Fear of water occurs in people regardless of gender, age, race and social status. Written recollections of hydrophobia are found in ancient texts of all civilizations, as well as in myths and fairy tales.

Hydrophobia is a mental state bordering between health and illness, characterized by the emergence of irrational fear at the sight of water or direct contact with it.

Hydrophobia can occur even when there is potential exposure to liquid, such as when a person rationalizes missing work or an appointment because it is raining outside. Cases of hydrophobia have been described, such as fear of drinking anything liquid, fear of high air humidity, or fog. Sometimes these conditions interfere with social life and require correction by a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.

There are no objective statistics on the prevalence of hydrophobia in the population from the WHO. Psychologists believe that water fears are characteristic of 10% of the population; they occur as a post-stress reaction at certain stages of life.

The concept of hydrophobia

Hydrophobia - what is it? Hydrophobia (aquaphobia) is a mental illness that is characterized by the fact that a person cannot control himself when seeing water. The patient experiences fear when washing, when absorbing liquid, near large bodies of water. This phobia is also sometimes called hydrophobia or fear of water and dampness. The deviation is usually formed in those people who once had a bad experience of learning to swim, but were never able to master this skill. There may be a fear of open water (clear or cloudy), as well as swimming pools and saunas.

Diagnosis of aquaphobia

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To deal with the issue of phobia for fear of drowning, you should go to see a psychotherapist. In the Russian Federation, this consultation costs about 1000 rubles in private centers [1]. The doctor will conduct a conversation with the patient, where he will find out the type of phobia and the reason for its development.

Note! Diagnosis can only be made by a professional doctor. The person himself will not be able to correctly determine the type of phobia. The subsequent therapy regimen is also not suitable for each patient, so it is selected strictly individually. If the fear of water can be overcome on your own, the doctor will draw up a treatment regimen at home and give the necessary recommendations.

How it manifests and arises

The impetus for the development of aquaphobia is a psychotraumatic factor, and the pathology can appear against the background of another somatic disease. In the first case, symptoms of fear are observed even at the age of 3-6 years, but parents attach little importance to them, thinking that the child is capricious. As a result, persistent hydrophobia is formed, as well as other neuroses.

As for the psychotraumatic factor, it can occur both in childhood and in adulthood. Often the patient is not ready to name the moment when he first felt fear of water. Usually the cause of fear is stress experienced, both with the participation of the person himself and if he acted as a passive observer. The lower the patient’s level of stress resistance, the more he fixates on the past, the greater the likelihood of developing a phobia of water.

Rabies and fear of water

Of particular interest is hydrophobia in rabies. The symptom of fear of water in rabies has been known for a long time; the old name of the disease is “hydrophobia.” Rabies is an infectious disease caused by the Rabies virus, which attacks the gray matter of the brain. The disease is included in the list of especially dangerous infections, since the mortality rate of people in case of infection and the first sign is 100%.

You can get infected from sick animals: wolves, foxes, dogs, cats, bats. Wild animals suffering from rabies, due to damage to the brain by the virus, and in particular the areas responsible for safety, lose their sense of fear. They can come close to populated areas where they come into contact with livestock, or run into villages and cities.

Infection occurs when a person is bitten by a rabies carrier or a large amount of saliva gets on the wound surface, which is facilitated by increased salivation. Infection of the salivary glands by the virus, leading to their inflammation and increased secretion of saliva, is an example of an evolutionary adaptation of the virus, which allows it to spread more efficiently.

The severity of hydrophobia in human rabies is so strong that for these cases there are specially equipped wards in which the patient is not allowed to come into contact with water. Since an attack of hydrophobia can even cause the auditory perception of splashes of liquid, there are no washbasins in these wards, the heating system is turned off, and droppers with solutions are carefully wrapped in tissue so that the patient does not realize that there is a solution near him. Contact with water leads the patient to a state of increased excitability, convulsive readiness, causes delirium and hallucinations.

Contact with water for a person with rabies has negative consequences. For example, an ordinary glass of water near a patient causes reflexive, painful contractions of the muscles of the entire body that are uncontrollable . Deaths have been reported from spasms of the muscles of the larynx and pharynx. Even with exicosis (severe dehydration), the patient aggressively pushes away the vessel with water.

Fear of water in rabies has nothing in common with ordinary hydrophobia. Its cause lies in the virus affecting the nucleus of one of the cranial nerves - nervus vagus. At the same time, the reaction to irritation of its reflex zones intensifies. A state of hyperesthesia of the sensory organs develops - increased susceptibility to any irritants. There is a thirst center in the brain, it works during rabies, but due to hyperreflexia of the nervus vagus caused by viral particles, the patient cannot drink, since an attempt to drink water inevitably provokes spasms of the muscles of the upper respiratory tract - the patient begins to choke.

Hydrophobia after an animal bite with a characteristic clinical picture is a pathognomonic symptom, that is, one that confirms the disease of rabies.

Features and reasons for the spread

The age when a person begins to be seriously afraid of water is between 4 and 5 years of age. Then no one gets choked up: I’m afraid of water, like learning to swim. For the first time, fear arises in connection with the child’s natural knowledge of the world around him, and therefore is a common reaction. Some experts believe that hydrophobia is a consequence of improper bathing of the baby (quick immersion, too cold or hot liquid).

Movies watched that show floods, tsunamis, and other water-related natural disasters also play a role. Observing the destruction in the frame, the death of other people, a person draws a conclusion for himself about the danger of the water element. The event in which the patient witnessed someone else drowning leaves its mark on the individual. Negative emotions create fear.

Hydrophobia significantly reduces the patient’s quality of life. He is forced to refuse water procedures, limit them, he does not know how to swim, avoids pools, rivers, lakes, and cannot go on a cruise or take part in rafting. In some individuals, aquaphobia takes too serious forms, preventing normal washing in the bathroom. In such a situation, how to learn to swim for an adult who is afraid of water becomes an unsolvable problem. Sometimes even drinking a glass of clear liquid turns into a tragedy, accompanied by anxiety and worry.

Aquaphobia disease

Aquaphobia, or hydrophobia, is a fairly common phobia. It got its name after studying such fears as:

  • Just “dive” into the water,
  • Swim where you don't feel the bottom underneath you,
  • Reluctance to swim after drowning or seeing a tragedy happen,
  • Fear of cold water
  • Fear of muddy, dirty water,
  • Reluctance to swim at night.

Fear of water manifests itself in the sea, lake, or open body of water. People with this disorder may feel comfortable taking a shower and bath, but going to the pool can result in panic attacks. Aquaphobia can manifest itself at absolutely any age. More often women suffer from it.

Important! Phobia is not a congenital disorder. However, young children often suffer from it. When considering all aspects, the birth process, complicated childbirth, and fetal hypoxia are often the source of fear of water. Occasionally, the phobia is transmitted from parents who are also afraid of water. Qualified specialists will help in this matter.

Hydrophobia is often characteristic of those who cannot swim. Occasionally, there are cases where a skilled swimmer experiences stress in the water and acquires aquaphobia.

Symptoms and signs of aquaphobia

The main signal that a person has a fear of water is avoidance of being near or in it. Panic can begin even when just a few drops get on the skin. However, experts call for a distinction between psychogenic illness and rabies infection. The fact is that at the second stage of rabies, hydrophobia also develops, but it is due to completely different reasons.

All symptoms of aquaphobia are usually divided into two large groups: psychological and vegetative.

Here are the main signs of mental deviation:

  • irritation when water gets on the skin;
  • fear of deep reservoirs, rivers and lakes;
  • fear of swimming, plunging into the bath;
  • reluctance to leave the house when it rains;
  • sometimes – anxiety while drinking.

Physiological symptoms of aquaphobia:

  • nausea;
  • increased blood pressure;
  • headache;
  • increased sweat production.

If a person finds himself in the middle of the water, he may experience convulsions, panic, and other signs that are life-threatening.

Reasons for appearance

While aquaphobia - what it is - can be easily understood, it is not always possible to understand the reasons for its occurrence. Among them are several:

  • previously experienced stress while in the water;
  • watching drowning scenes in movies;
  • personal presence in case of an accident;
  • viral diseases (rabies, tetanus).

Also, the formation of fear is influenced by traumatic situations associated with shipwrecks, natural disasters, an unsuccessful attempt to learn to swim, and long stays under water.

Common Facts

Aquaphobia has been known for quite some time, so there are several specific facts about it:

  1. In the past, hydrophobia was associated exclusively with rabies. Also, a similar symptom occurs with other diseases - hysteria, tetanus.
  2. There are many people in the world who believe that the best way to teach a child to swim is to push him into the water so that the self-preservation instinct works. It is these people who then become hostages of the situation. As adults, they begin to look for ways to stop being afraid of water and learn to swim.


Most often, hydrophobia has fairly mild symptoms, which become more pronounced when immersed in a stressful situation (panic attacks, fussiness, attempts to get out of the water occur). Diagnosis of deviations is carried out by interviewing the patient and observing his reactions to stimuli.

How to stop being afraid of water

The main way to stop being afraid of water is psychotherapy, art therapy, and medications. A doctor will allow a person to quickly understand the reason for the formation of a phobia, overcome it and choose a tactic of action. There are also some differences in the treatment of individual forms of deviation. Thus, ablutophobia and thalassophobia can be easily eliminated with the help of hypnosis. The patient is also gradually taught to touch the water and feel it without experiencing a feeling of horror.

Another method is art therapy. A person in class depicts what he is afraid of. It is assumed that during the description the patient understands that his fear is insignificant. Visualization works similarly when it is necessary to imagine what a person fears.

Both group and individual therapy may be involved. In addition, introspection and self-hypnosis are used.

Drug therapy is prescribed only if the patient shows excessive anxiety, panics, and is nervous. He is prescribed a course of sedatives.

What is the help of specialists in control and prevention?

Depending on the severity of the phobia, treatment may consist of psychotherapy or treatment is provided using psychotherapy methods and medication. If the phobia of water is complicated by panic attacks, then antidepressants, tranquilizers, and sedatives are prescribed. If medication is not needed, then only psychotherapy is selected. Hypnosis, NLP, and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy are commonly used. The average course of psychotherapy is 2 months.

Psychotherapy sessions can be individual or group. The purpose of the classes is to eliminate the causes of the phobia. The specialist penetrates the client’s subconscious and reveals the deep causes of fear. Next, work is carried out to change the attitude towards past experience and correct perception, teaching the client relaxation methods.

Additionally, work is carried out to correct a person’s self-perception and character. It is necessary to increase self-confidence, to rid the client of suspiciousness and anxiety, and excessive impressionability.

It is important! Only a psychotherapist can determine the course of treatment and, if necessary, prescribe medications. Only a specialist can accurately determine the cause and living conditions, personality traits that are prerequisites for the development of a phobia.

Test - are you hydrophobic?

If you cannot understand whether you really have a pathological fear, you do not know what the phobia is called - fear of water, then try taking the test on our website. A video on this topic will also help you get rid of the problem, which will tell you step by step how to get rid of the pathology.

  1. I'm afraid of water, is that true?
  2. Why did you have such a phobia?
  3. When you see a full bathroom, do you feel afraid?

Write your answers in the comments!

What you can do yourself

You can help yourself only at the initial stage of the disease. Self-medication is carried out according to these instructions:

  • Choose a quiet place, a gently sloping bank of a pond (even a bathtub will do).
  • Ask someone close to you to be nearby and provide backup.
  • Get used to the water gradually. First, touch it, shake it with your hand. Sink slowly. You can take your mattress with you.
  • Be sure to relax and worry less. If desired, turn on calm, soothing music.

Hydrophobia, like any phobia, is curable. Despite the fact that the disease is unpleasant, it is now possible to select individually effective methods of psychotherapy and hypnosis. Fear does not go away on its own, so you should call it by name and show proper resistance.

Frequently asked questions about hydrophobia

As a child, I was forced to swim in the pool, which led to the development of hydrophobia, what should I do?

You can go in two ways: get rid of the deviation yourself, if the form of the pathology is mild, contact a psychotherapist if you need the help of a specialist for a more severe course. If you decide to get rid of fear yourself, then it is important to create a favorable and calm environment, find someone who can help you mentally and physically. You can also go to a doctor for group or individual sessions, where several therapy options will be offered (art therapy, visualization).

I have aquaphobia, how can I get rid of it?

Try to determine the reasons for this fear in your life. Think about what psychologically traumatic factor led to the formation of the phobia (movies, your own experience), and rule out in the future any severe stress and shock associated with water. Start getting used to the liquid gradually: wet part of your body, walk on the water, immerse yourself in water up to your waist or shoulders, the main thing is that you feel comfortable. Next, slowly accustom your body to liquid.

Hydrophobia in children: how to help a child overcome hydrophobia

The fears of young children are deep, to the point of despair. The child does not have a complete picture of the world. If an adult can understand the bias of his fears, then a child’s fear is similar to that of an animal, primitive. Therefore, children's fears almost always develop into mental disorders: hypochondria, OCD, neurosis.

The best option is the help of a psychologist. This will bring the fastest results. Another option: help your child cope with the problem yourself.

  • Explain that this fear is temporary and will soon pass.
  • Replace fear with positive emotions every day.
  • You can show pictures of children frolicking in the water, show the inhabitants of the underwater world. Cartoons and documentaries that show water in a positive light.
  • Show that the water is not dangerous.
  • Teach swimming so that the child can see with his own eyes that the water is safe. Just do this carefully so as not to cause a panic attack. Only if the child agrees to try.

The main thing is to do no harm. Hydrophobia is a complex disorder. And it is better to consult a psychologist. If you are unable to attend an appointment, you can always call the helpline. There are toll-free psychological help numbers in every city. There, a qualified psychologist will tell you what parents can do on their own in each specific case. For one child, swimming in the pool will serve as a way to get rid of hydrophobia, while for another, a more severe form of the disorder may begin. Everything is individual.

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