Hydrophobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The hydrophobicity or water phobia is a psychological disorder that is characterized by an irrational, excessive and unjustified fear into the water.

Typically this type of phobia is usually related to the fear of beaches or pools, due to a large amount of water that is present in those places.

Teenage Boy Wearing Float Toys In Shower

However, hydrophobia is not limited to being afraid to insert in the water, swim or bathe. A person with this alteration may fear any situation in which he comes in contact with water, including the one that comes out of the tap, the shower, etc.

Water is one of the most indispensable elements for the life of living beings. So not to get in touch with her regularly is complex.

For this reason, hydrophobia can seriously affect the life of the person since he or she can react with intense fear on a recurring basis in their day today.

The objective of this article is to review the current literature about this disorder. Discuss the characteristics of hydrophobia and explain what its causes and treatments may be.

Characteristics of hydrophobia
Hydrophobia is classified according to the statistical and diagnostic manual (DSM-V) as an anxiety disorder. Specifically, it refers to one of the multiple types of specific phobia that have been described today.

Specific phobias are alterations that are characterized by presenting an irrational and excessive fear (a phobic fear) towards a specific element.

In the case of hydrophobia, the feared element is water. So the person who presents this alteration will experience high feelings of fear when exposed to these elements.

Hydrophobia is considered an anxiety disorder because of the response that causes the person to come into contact with their feared stimulus. In this alteration, when the individual is exposed to water presents a marked response of anxiety.

Likewise, hydrophobia is characterized by avoidance and escape behaviors. The subject with this psychopathology will try to constantly avoid contact with water.

This fact can be reflected in specific situations. For example, a person with hydrophobia will never go to the beach on a hot summer day or go to a river when hiking on the mountain.

However, the avoidance of hydrophobia may not stay there and aggravate the disorder much more. A subject with this alteration can avoid contact with water in normal and everyday situations such as using scrubbing water, opening the shower tap or using a hose to water the plants.

How can you determine if you have hydrophobia?
In general, human beings, like many other animals, have a good predisposition for water.

This element does not usually present harmful and dangerous attributions to people directly. Likewise, it is considered a vital substance for the life of the planet and beings inhabit it.

However, not all people have the same liking for water. There are those who can adore it and fully enjoy spaces such as beaches, rivers, lakes, pools or showers. But there are also those who may present a certain dislike of those situations.

For example, a person who can not swim may slightly fear situations where water is very abundant. You can even get slightly nervous when you enter a beach or a deep pool.

This fact in itself does not dictate the presence of hydrophobia. That is to say, hydrophobia does not consist in presenting a certain rejection or displeasure towards the water, it goes much further.

Therefore, in order to determine whether hydrophobia is suffered or not, it is essential to @nalyze the type of fear that the person presents to the water. In general, the phobic fear of hydrophobia is characterized by:

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1- Excessive
The fear of water related to hydrophobia is highly excessive in response to the demands of the situation.

For example, an individual with this disorder may present an extremely high fear in apparently safe situations such as being in a Jacuzzi or taking a shower.

In this way, the presence of hydrophobia is discarded in those people who present a justified and reasonable fear of water.

For example, a person who does not know how to swim can present a fear that is certainly adaptive (and not phobic) to water when in situations where knowing how to swim may be necessary at some time.

2- Irrational
The exaggerated intensity of the fear of water related to hydrophobia is accompanied by a high irrational component.

That is to say, the person suffering from hydrophobia is not able to justify in a reasoned way why he fears water. Nor does he manage to expose which are the elements that make him experience such high feelings of fear.

The individual with hydrophobia fears extreme water, unable to reason and explain the reasons for their fear.

3- Uncontrollable
On the other hand, the subject with hydrophobia is totally incapable of controlling his sensations and experiences of fear.

When these appear, they completely take over their thinking and behavior, without the person being able to modulate the fear towards the water.

In this way, the individual experiences fear irrationally but are unable to prevent the appearance of fear.

4- Lead to avoidance
The fear of water related to hydrophobia is so high that it causes a marked avoidance behavior in the person.

The individual with this alteration will try to avoid exposure to water by all means. Although this behavior may adversely affect you or decrease your quality of life.

For the person with hydrophobia, the most important thing is to avoid the anguished sensations that they experience when they come into contact with water.

5- Persistent
Hydrophobia is a persistent disorder. That is, the fear of water does not appear in specific stages or at specific moments.

People with this disorder experience fear of water invariably whenever they come into contact with it. Likewise, if it is not treated properly, the alteration will be presented throughout his life.


Hydrophobia is an anxiety disorder, so the main symptoms of psychopathology are anxious manifestations.

The alteration of anxiety that causes the phobic fear of water is serious. Affecting both the physical plane and the cognitive and behavioral plane of the person. However, it rarely ends up producing an anxiety attack.

1- Physical Plane
When the person with hydrophobia comes in contact with their feared element, it presents a series of physical symptoms.

These manifestations are characterized by changes in the functioning of the organism. Specifically, the activity of the central nervous system is increased in response to the fear of water.

The physical symptoms that hydrophobia can cause can vary considerably in each case. However, at present, the group of manifestations that can be presented is well described.

Specifically, a person with hydrophobia will present some of the following physical symptoms whenever they come into contact with water.

  • Increase in the cardiac rate
  • Increase in the respiratory rate.
  • Hyperventilation or feelings of choking.
  • Generalized muscle tension.
  • Excessive sweating throughout the body and/or cold sweats.
  • Stomach and/or head pains
  • Feeling of unreality or depersonalization.
  • Pupillary dilation
  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

2- Cognitive plane
The physical symptoms that appear when the hydrophobic person comes into contact with water do not have a temporary or isolated character. This fact is explained mainly because they do not appear alone.

That is, the physical manifestations are accompanied by a series of cognitive alterations. In this sense, the symptoms referring to the cognitive plane refer to all the thoughts that the person develops about water.

The cognitions of fear and fear of water can be very varied. All of them are characterized by making catastrophic forecasts about what can happen when one comes into contact with this element.

Likewise, a series of thoughts appear about the personal incapacities to face the feared stimulus.

These cognitions are feedback with the physical sensations in a directional way. Physical symptoms increase negative thoughts towards the water, and these increase the bodily manifestations of anxiety.

3- Behavioral plane
Finally, as specified in the definition of phobic fear of water, hydrophobia significantly affects the behavior of the person.

The two main behaviors that cause fear of water are the avoidance and escape of the feared stimulus.

The avoidance refers to all the behaviors that the person develops in their day to day to avoid contact with water. These can be serious and greatly affect the functionality of the individual.

The escape on their part is the behavior that always appears when a person with hydrophobia is not able to avoid their feared situation. On these occasions, the individual will try to escape as soon as possible from contact with water.

These elements have a direct relationship with the intensity of the fear. The high feelings of discomfort caused by exposure to water make the individual try to avoid it whenever possible.

On the other hand, the fact of avoiding contact with water contributes to the increase of fear towards this, which results in a behavior that prevents the overcoming of fear and disorder.

The causes of specific phobias are well studied and documented today. Thus, there is a high scientific consensus in affirming that there is no single factor that can originate hydrophobia.

Specifically, it has been demonstrated that the element that gives rise to this alteration is the combination and feedback of different factors.

In each case, one or the other can play a more relevant role. Likewise, not all of them appear or are easily identifiable in all subjects with hydrophobia.

The factors that have been mostly related to the disorder are:

1- Classic conditioning
Classical conditioning is the main method by which people develop their feelings of fear and fear.

In this way, having experienced traumatic, dangerous or unpleasant situations with water can be an important factor that contributes to the development of hydrophobia.

2- Vicarious conditioning
Not only through direct experience can fears develop. These can also be learned by viewing specific images and situations.

In this sense, having seen negative events related to water, such as the death of someone by drowning, images of a tsunami or any other situation in which water causes significant damage, can contribute to the acquisition of the disorder.

3- Verbal conditioning
Finally, the other way of acquiring information that people have refers to verbal processes.

Having received educational styles in which special emphasis is placed on the danger of water, or hearing opinions of fear towards this element in a repeated way can condition the experiences of fear.

The best news about this psychological disorder is that it currently has truly effective interventions and treatments.

The life of a person with hydrophobia can be markedly limited by their fears of water. However, you can overcome them if you put yourself in the hands of professionals and perform the appropriate treatments.

In this sense, the intervention that has shown greater efficacy is psychotherapy. Specifically, cognitive behavioral treatment has remarkably high recovery rates and is considered today as the best intervention to treat hydrophobia.

This treatment is based on the subject’s exposure to its feared elements. The person with hydrophobia is exposed to water in a gradual and controlled manner, with the aim of getting used to it and realizing that it is not a dangerous element to fear.