Fear of Illness

People who fear natural phenomena may use sickness as their excuse for staying indoors, but some people fear a sick day itself. Terror at the thought of getting hurt or becoming ill is the fourth type of simple phobia, and it is one of the most common and troublesome.

Fiona Rittigan has such a phobia, and she explains what it is like to live with a fear of getting sick.

“I’ve got a very very bad phobia about germs,” she says. “I find it very difficult to touch anything. . . . And I can’t bear people coughing in front of me as I’m very scared of illness.”

For people like Rittigan, phobias of germs can create many problems. Handling money, opening doors, answering telephones, and shaking people’s hands are terrible experiences for them. They are so worried about get- ting sick that it becomes difficult to interact with other people and to do normal, everyday activities.

Other people with illness-related phobias do not dread germs themselves, like Rittigan does, but instead have a fear of going to the doctor. For many phobics, it is the thought of a needle, a lab coat, or a stethoscope that sends them over the edge. These people may fear medical professionals and procedures so much that they refuse to make appointments even for routine check- ups such as caring for their teeth.

In fact, says psychologist Sheryl Jackson:

“one of the most common phobias is the fear of dentists.” She says people who suffer with this phobia “will literally let their teeth rot out because they are afraid to go to a dentist.”

This phobia of dentists or other doctors may date back to childhood and a painful experience with a wisdom tooth or a medical test. Sometimes, however, phobic patients fear doctors and dentists for another reason entirely. Some phobics are afraid of saying or doing something painfully embarrassing in front of their doctor. This fear of embarrassment is not a simple phobia at all. It belongs to an entirely different family of phobias, called social phobias. A social phobia is a fear of what other people think.