If you think twice before biting into a PB&J, you are not alone. There’s a name for that: arachibutyrophobia.

Arachibutyrophobia, coming from the Greek words “arachi” for “ground nut” and “butyr” for butter, and “phobia” for fear, it’s a fear of being choked by peanut butter. Specifically, it refers to the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

This phobia is rare, and it is considered to be in the “simple” (as opposed to complex) category of phobias.

The statistical odds of an adult choking on peanut butter are extraordinarily low, and most people with this phobia understand that. However, knowing the odds may not stop the symptoms of a phobia from being triggered.

Symptoms of arachibutyrophobia vary person to person, and not everyone will experience every symptom.

Common symptoms of arachibutyrophobia
  • uncontrollable anxiety when there is a chance you will be exposed to peanut butter
  • a strong flight-or-flight response when you are in a situation where peanut butter is being served or is close to you
  • heart palpitations, nausea, sweating, or tremors when exposed to peanut butter
  • an awareness that your thoughts about choking on peanut butter might be unreasonable, but you feel helpless to change your reaction

Some people with this phobia are able to eat things with peanut butter as an ingredient and some aren’t.

Arachibutyrophobia can trigger symptoms of anxiety, which can include difficulty swallowing. That means that peanut butter — or any other similar texture substance — might become even more difficult to swallow when your phobia is triggered.

If even the thought of peanut butter makes you feel like you can’t swallow, be aware that you aren’t imagining this physical symptom.

The causes of phobias can be complicated and hard to identify. If you’ve had a fear of choking on peanut butter for your whole life, genetic and environmental factors might be at play.

You may also be able to pinpoint the period of time when your phobia symptoms started and feel that your phobia is connected to something you witnessed or something that you learned.

You may have seen someone who had a severe allergic reaction when they tried to swallow peanut butter or felt like you were choking when you were eating peanut butter as a child.

Arachibutyrophobia can be rooted in a more general fear of choking (pseudodysphagia). It is believed most fears of choking begin after a personal experience with choking on food. Women may be at a slightly higher risk for this phobia than men.

There’s not an official test or diagnostic tool to identify arachibutyrophobia. If you’re having symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider or a qualified mental health professional about your fear.

A counselor can talk to you and determine if your symptoms meet the criteria for a phobia and can also help you create a plan for treatment.

Treatment for your fear of choking on peanut butter can take several approaches. Common treatment methods include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that involves discussing your fears and other emotions surrounding peanut butter, in this case, with a mental health professional. Then you work together to reduce negative thoughts and fear.

Exposure therapy

Experts seem to agree that exposure therapy, or systematic desensitization, is the most effective way to treat simple phobias, such as arachibutyrophobia. Exposure therapy focuses on helping your brain stop relying on coping mechanisms to deal with fear, as opposed to finding the root cause of your phobia.

Gradual, repeated exposure to what triggers your fear is the key to exposure therapy. For arachibutyrophobia, this may involve looking at photos of people safely eating peanut butter and introducing ingredients that contain trace amounts of peanut butter into your diet.

Since you don’t need to eat peanut butter, this therapy will focus on managing your symptoms of anxiety, not forcing you to eat something.

Prescription medication

Medications can help treat phobia symptoms while you work to manage your anxiety and fear. Beta-blockers (which control adrenaline) and sedatives (which can minimize symptoms like tremors and anxiousness) can be prescribed to manage phobias.

Medical professionals may be hesitant to prescribe sedatives for phobias because the success rate of other treatments, like exposure therapy, are high, and prescription medications can become addictive.

WHERE TO FIND HELP FOR PHOBIAS

If you’re dealing with any kind of phobia, know that you’re not alone. More than 12 percent of people will experience some sort of phobia during their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

You don’t need peanut butter to be healthy. But it’s a great source of protein, and it’s an ingredient in many dishes and desserts.

Managing the symptoms of arachibutyrophobia may be less about getting to the point where you can eat peanut butter and more about avoiding the panicked, fight-or-flight response that being around it triggers. With committed exposure therapy, your chance of reducing symptoms without medication is high.

If you have phobia symptoms that are affecting your life, speak to your general practitioner or mental health professional.