What is Acrophobia?

Acrophobia (or altophobia) is the extreme or irrational fear of heights. This phobia is different from aerophobia which is the extreme or irrational fear of flying, and is classed separately from specific phobias since this fear is more generalized.

An acrophobic, depending on the severity of the condition, may fear being on a high floor, climbing a ladder or any activity that involves heights or being at height. In extreme cases a single step up or down can act as a trigger.

Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias to cause an irrational fear of objects or situations.

Most people experience a degree of natural fear when exposed to heights, rationally tied to the fear of falling and injury, so acrophobia is a matter of degree and presentation of symptoms.

Symptoms of Acrophobia

The sufferer may instinctively search for something to cling to when encountering any vertical change, such as steps, inclined yards or walkways, etc. A phobic may or may not experience vertigo and may be unable to trust their sense of balance.

Extreme symptoms can include descending immediately, crawling on all fours, kneeling or otherwise lowering the body.

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • obsession with the subject of the phobia
  • fear or feelings of losing control
  • avoidance behavior
  • headaches

Learn more about phobia symptoms

Causes of Acrophobia

Fear of falling, along with fear of loud noises, is one of the most commonly suggested inborn or non-associative fears. Difficulties with balance may contribute to the formation of this phobia.

Acrophobia seems to be at least partially ingrained as an evolutionary survival mechanism.  As a “normal” human reaction, acrophobia is another diagnosis related to the severity of symptoms.

Acrophobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Such phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (such as “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. (An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.)

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. (A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.)

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less well understood, are driven by social anxiety and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation or seeing something on the news or on TV and movies.

Acrophobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias

Treatment for Acrophobia

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Habit strategies to relax
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • In vivo exposure
  • Response prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

Learn more about phobia treatments


Book Shelf

The list of books below are hand picked by the staff at Massive Phobia. It's a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Strategies, Trauma Healing, Mindfulness, Meditation, Buddhist Knowledge and Somatic Study. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.